Tuesday, May 20, 2008

A THESIS to read: a personal commendation from Dr Peter Toon of an important study of Anglican Identity now available on PDF

I was born in England and thus was a parishioner of the Church of England, the Established Church, from my birth. But it took me some few years to appreciate this Church as the continuing, reformed catholic Church of the nation. I had to be converted, as it were, to it from a kind of evangelical nonconformity. Since my early twenties, I have sought to be a serious Anglican, usually calling myself as high-church evangelical and an evangelical high-churchman, as a means of stating my identity in a comprehensive Church.

However, as I have found out from much experience and even pain, It is one thing to be a member of the Church of England, ordained or lay, and yet another to be the equivalent in a province overseas, especially in the U.S.A., with its totally different history and expression of religious freedom, Christian churches and denominations.

Since 1990 I have been a part of the American Episcopal or Anglican experience and thus have lived within what is generally agreed to be the fruit of the most powerful, sustained innovations in Anglicanism since the Reformation—which occurred in the 1960s-1980s in the U.S.A.. Here the innovations have not been to restore biblical holiness; but to open the church up to the secular world and conform the church to the accepted standards of peace, justice and human rights of the world. The innovations have been most obvious in Episcopal circles in terms of sexual ethics and relations between the sexes. Yet though originating primarily in the U.S.A. these innovations have caused a major crisis within the whole Anglican family and this crisis is as real now as it was five years ago!

All this personal story is merely a way of opening up the topic, described in detail in a Ph.D thesis by Charles Erlandson, entitled, “Orthodox Anglican Identity: Clear and Coherent, or Ambiguous and Messy?” (Lancaster University, UK, 2007). I want to commend this thesis—please read it by PDF on disc—to serious students of the Anglican Way, especially to those seeking to be Anglican or Episcopalian within North America and the West generally. (To order a pdf file copy of the thesis for $10, please visit www.standrewsresources.com St Andrew’s Fort Worth)

To commend this work I will make further general remarks which I hope which promote interest in the topic.

1. Though we speak of Anglicanism and the Anglican Way in the world and in specific parts thereof, such as the U.S.A., and our speech suggests a unified reality, we know that there is no unified reality as such, particularly in the U.S.A. In some parts of the world there is the official Anglican Church, as it were, and virtually no seceders from it or even competitors using the same name alongside it. But in the U.S.A., and elsewhere, Anglicanism is a cluster or a collection or a network or a group or a mixed bag of different types of Anglicans with varied loyalties and associations and with different doctrines and liturgies. Little unites them apart from the name. There is no longer only the original Protestant Episcopal Church created from the Church of England of the 13 colonies in the 1780s; alongside it and around it are many other groups, created locally or imported from abroad, also using the Anglican name! And even within the (Protestant) Episcopal Church there is a spectrum of differing forms of Anglican religion, even though the dominant is liberal progressive.
2. All kinds of efforts, intellectual and practical, have been made in recent times and are being made globally now to try to keep together in some kind of meaningful fellowship at least what is known as the Anglican Communion of Churches. That is, all these provinces which one way or another came out of the Church of England or a Church associated with this Church, and which over the last forty years or so have been bound together by a common history and bonds of affection. But this is easier said than done for what was possible in good times is often impossible in difficult times, and today is a difficult time of crisis, and thus differences loom more clearly than agreements. In fact, the search for a common identity is often not merely very difficult but elusive for groups come in and go out from such different perspectives and with mixed and varied motives. People of the best intentions see things very differently and there is much scope for misunderstanding, as is so evident in 2008.
3. It may well be—and if so this is a real tragedy— the case that there is no possible way available in the U.S.A. for there to be anything but what there is now—a messy association of different types of competitive Anglicans representing a vast spectrum of religion but all claiming to be Anglican as such. It may be that the only way to be an Anglican in the U.S.A. is to identify with one part or group within the spectrum and, realizing that it is only a part, to seek within it to fulfill one’s Christian calling in a charitable way. Now in other parts of the world, say Burma or Sarawak or Sabah, it may be different—very different—but in the U.S.A. it will be an experience of great spiritual pain for those who desire Anglican unity in truth and truth in unity in common identity! There will not be and indeed cannot be a coherent province of the Anglican Communion of Churches in the U.S.A. at this time and probably never—and what is called the Province now (Episcopal Church) is so only in name not in worship, doctrine and holiness.


For me the form of godliness and discipline provided by the use of the classic BCP daily with the Bible represents a very high form of Christian piety, devotion and doctrine, and though I am deeply pained each new day by the lack of coherent identity in Anglicanism in the West, I have much to hang on to in a positive way from the reformed Catholic, deeply biblical heritage of the Anglican Way! Unless I can find better I stay with it and am grateful.

DO PLEASE BUY AND READ THE THESIS—better to informed and to live as an Anglican with understanding than to live avoiding facing the messy reality of the situation on the ground!

(To order a pdf file copy of the thesis for $10, please visit www.standrewsresources.com St Andrew’s Fort Worth)

--Peter Toon

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