Monday, October 26, 2009

Distinctively Anglican

To read some of the post Benedict Personal Ordinariate offer commentary one could be forgiven for thinking that at one stroke he has blown the Anglican Communion apart, its future now determined to be two incompatible entities, one shaped by a dour Calvinist Puritanism, the other by a flamboyant anything goes North American liberalism. That is, Benedict will draw the best, brightest and most orthodox among us away from a church which we now see with the brilliance of hindsight to be a patch up job cobbled together under various political exigencies of the English landscape. Time to farewell the bold, brave and ultimately futile experiment called Anglicanism.

There is always the small matter of considering where the truth of Christianity lies! This is a difficult time for Anglicans, and the difficulties may or may not be helped by Benedict's creative compassion to distressed Anglicans, but there is no reason to become jelly-minded about what it means to be an Anglican!

It is a good time to recall Bishop Jewel's words:

"We have returned to the Apostles and the old Catholic Fathers. We have planted no new religion, but only preserved the old that was undoubtedly founded and used by the Apostles of Christ and other holy Fathers of the Primitive Church."

The distinctive contribution of the Anglican Communion to the world ecclesial scene is to be a church in continuity with the undivided church yet reformed of unwarranted accretions. That we ourselves these days might need quite a bit of reforming, perhaps more in the direction of restoring things we have lost than removing accretions, does not change the basic shape of Anglicanism in relation to other churches.

Notwithstanding all we may admire about the personal characteristics of Benedict as a leader, and about much Roman theology which we are agreeable to, not least because it is scriptural, the unwarranted accretions of Roman theology remain. The goal of communion between all churches, including between Anglicans and Romans remains a worthy ecumenical goal. Benedict's offer does not draw us closer together on that score, and the communion it promises Anglicans who cross over to the new arrangement is still a communion based on signing up to Roman theology.

There is another element of Anglican distinctiveness worth noting. Some unhappy Anglicans look the other way, to Eastern Orthodoxy. Again, there is much to admire there. But some things are unsatisfactory. I have in my possession a copy of the recently published Orthodox Study Bible in English. Browsing through it I have been intrigued to find that it includes a piece of bad scholarship: it conforms the text of the Lord's Prayer in Luke 11 to the text of the Lord's Prayer in Matthew's Gospel. The footnotes acknowledge this. But there is no basis (I am aware of) in scholarship for doing this, though undoubtedly there is a basis in E. Orthodox tradition. Anglicans have been distinctively honest and rigorous in our biblical scholarship.

Finally, Anglicans have also been distinctive (as a church valuing continuity with the undivided church) in our readiness to engage contemporaneously with the culture around us, a consequence of embracing what it means to be a national church in each nation. In contrast to the Eastern Orthodox in particular which generally does not engage with cultural change (though curiously in Russia manages to keep close to whomever rules), but also with greater speed than the Roman Catholic Church, we have acknowledged change in society, culture, philosophy and politics. Our debates today are not necessarily a church going the wrong way so much as a church engaging with change before our Roman brothers and sisters do so. Those Anglicans drawn to Rome because they do not like the idea of women priests or partnered gay clergy actually have no idea what the Roman view of these matters will be at the end of the 21st century. (One brief lesson from modern church history: the RCC once rejected critical biblical scholarship then did a volte-face a few decades later).

As an aside I am aghast at the cheap shots being made about those Anglicans who might take up Rome's offer - accusations that Rome is pandering to homophobic, woman-hating Anglican conservatives - that is unfair (have these Anglicans been personally surveyed?) and shallow (there are many good theological reasons for viewing Rome as a true interpreter of the gospel, even if those reasons are disputed by those of us who value the Reformation).

An ongoing contribution to the truth is ours as Anglicans to make - but not if we give up and fold into the lives of other churches!


liturgy said...

It is intriguing to me that the only issue that springs to your mind with Eastern Orthodoxy is their use of the New King James Version translation of the Bible for a “Study Bible”. The NKJV continues the tradition in Luke from the King James Bible and back to the Majority Greek Text as it clearly acknowledges and honestly footnotes the variants. I would far rather this level of honest transparency than the NIV or ESV which conform Isaiah 7:14 to Matthew 1:23 without any indication whatsoever that they are departing from the Masoretic text which they claim they are translating.

If there is little more that is an issue with Orthodoxy, then one would need to seriously heed: “What, then is the Orthodox Church? It is the first Christian Church in history, the Church founded by the Lord Jesus Christ, described in the pages of the New Testament. Her history can be traced in unbroken continuity all the way back to Christ and His Twelve apostles. And what is it that’s missing in the non-Orthodox Churches – even the best of them? Fullness. For the fullness of the New Testament faith is to be found only in the New Testament Church.” (Study Bible xxvii)

Certainly, since separating from Orthodoxy, Western Christian history is one of increasing fragmentation. It is beyond dispute that the “Bible-alone” half of that Western separation leads not to clear, agreed unity – but only accelerating fragmentation.

When you claim, “Anglicans have been distinctively honest and rigorous in our biblical scholarship,” from my experience in this province and many others, I can only imagine you are being ironic.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Liturgy
That's not the only issue! But infinite time is not available to me. Agreed there is transparency in the EO Study Bible.

By 'Anglicans have been distinctively honest and rigorous in our biblical scholarship' I am describing our general history of the best of our scholarship - from Wycliffe, Tyndale through Lightfoot, Westcott, Hort, and onto Farrer, Dodd, NT Wright and the like.

We have not been perfect which leads me to another distinctively Anglican characteristic - our humility!

Ecclesia said...

Isn't saying "the best of our scholarship" is "honest and rigorous" simply a tautology? :-)

You will have to use some emoticons to help me understand your tone when you say “Anglicans have been distinctively honest and rigorous in our biblical scholarship” is being "humble" :-)

I would love to see a statistic of the percentage of the NZ province's clergy can even read the scriptures in the original languages - let alone are "honest and rigorous in their biblical scholarship." Not to be clericalist, I would need to ask the same of the laity before being able to claim “Anglicans have been distinctively honest and rigorous in our biblical scholarship”

Perhaps the sentence you were trying to write was "many scholars who have been honest and rigorous in their biblical scholarship have been Anglicans"?

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ecclesia
By 'humble'/'humility' within Anglicanism I mean that I think we are prepared to admit to mistakes, changes of mind being changes of mind ... the sense I get from EO is that nothing changes so no mistakes are made; and the sense I get from RCC is that no mistakes are admitted, though 'development' might take place ... on the particular matter of Anglican biblical scholarship we might be proud of our achievements!

I take your point that I might use the word 'many'; but against that could be brought the point that Anglican doctrines do not involve exegetical sleights of hand ... but you might think that contestable! :)