Friday, January 14, 2011

Who is an Anglican these days? (3)

It would be a strange irony of recent global Anglicanism's tendency to eschew talk of the Covenant, to overturn tradition at the drop of a hat (think: Lambeth 2008 as completely different to all preceding conferences), and to make up rules as it goes along (think: the way some things have happened at recent ACC meetings), if a definition of who is an Anglican were fiercely inflexible!

In fact, in a further irony, there is no body of global Anglicans capable of defining who an Anglican is and enforcing that definition. After all, what has a great plethora of words by blogging Anglicans in recent years achieved? Clarity that neither Lambeth nor ABC nor Primates' Meeting nor ACC have authority to impose anything on any member church of the Communion. There never will be an international legal decision which  makes 'Anglican' somekind of trademark because there is no body of Anglicans capable of representing the Communion as a body of which the Communion is unanimously supportive.

In the end, defining who is an Anglican these days cannot rise above a matter of opinion. So here is my opinion!

(1) Anglicanism has character: a theological heritage, a liturgical tradition, a history of growth and development from beginnings in the Church of England. Any definition of who an Anglican is should incorporate those who share in that character through self-identification as an Anglican.

(2) Anglicanism has expression in various churches, as well as in the global Anglican Communion, and in other networks, notably at this time, the Anglican Church of North America, GAFCON, and Global South. Any definition of who is an Anglican should incorporate those who claim membership of such self-identified churches, communions, and networks.

(3) Anglicanism has theological substance, summed up as reformed-and-catholic. Any definition of who an Anglican is should incorporate those self-identifying as Anglican whose confession of faith is coherent with that substance.

This is not 'Anglican means anything we like'. Masses of Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Presbyterians, Pentecostals, Quakers, etc would not fit any emerging definition from these three principles, not least because no matter how much they celebrated what they had in common with Anglicans, they would neither claim membership of an Anglican church nor self-identify as Anglicans.

This approach to definition has advantages of acknowledging the theological substance of being Anglican (so being Anglican does not reduce to absurdities like an Anglican with technical membership of a church (say, never turning up to worship, but making an annual donation) is 'in' but a person attending an ACNA church, fully subscribing to the theological substance of Anglicanism is 'out'), as well as formalities such as the overwhelming majority of Anglicans being those who belong to a member church of the Communion. In its own way this approach is inclusive and diverse (what could be more Anglican than that!).

Naturally the best way to be Anglican in theological belief is to use authorised prayer books because in these the theological substance of Anglicanism (as understood by each authorising church) is best expressed.

Two observations:

(1) My task here is attempting to define who is an Anglican these days, not to define who is in the Anglican Communion or who ought to be in the Anglican Communion. Dysfunctional though I think the organising bodies of the Communion are, it is nevertheless their task to work out who belongs and who does not belong to the Communion. While a sentiment within me says that all Anglicans ought to be in the Communion, the reality is that not all Anglicans want to be in the Communion because some think the Communion is unfaithful to Anglicanism as they understand it.

(2) The summary of Anglican theological substance, reformed-and-catholic is very important! I suggest that those Anglicans moving to the Anglican Ordinariate are doing so because, in the end, they have come to a point of jettisoning the 'reformed' part of the substance. The much discussed phenomenon of 'Sydney Anglicanism', conversely, is running the risk (IMHO) of jettisoning the 'catholic' part of the substance. But concerning the main task of this post I suggest the 'catholic' part is noted carefully: to be Anglican is to want to be and to work towards participation in the life of the whole church. We could say that there are no individual Anglicans! We should note that claimants to be Anglican should have a 'plan for union' (NZ readers of a certain vintage will know that phrase well!). That is, Anglicans look to belong to something bigger than themselves: to a parish, to a diocese, to a national church, to an international Communion, to a reunited, undivided global church (one day!). Setting to one side property disputes and some rhetoric about an ambition to replace TEC and ACCan, ACNA quite rightly desires to be part of global Anglican networks, and those global networks rightly seek to include this entity. My personal hope is that one day sufficient bridges can be built for TEC, ACCan and ACNA to coexist within the Anglican Communion. That would be second prize, of course, compared with true unity in the body of Anglicans in North America, but it would be a realistic representation of where Anglican theological diversity has broadened to in North America.

There is also the question of 'formularies': how important is following the formularies  in order to be an Anglican (or, to be Anglican)? My thought is that it is very important if one wishes to be discerned as a good Anglican or a faithful Anglican or a thorough Anglican. But simply to be an Anglican? It is often observable about the formularies that many of us try to follow them but each of us has a blindspot, an area of formularaic life which we observe in the breach. Who is to say that X is an Anglican following her 95% selection of the formularies while Y is not an Anglican because he follows a different 95% selection? And would 95% be sufficiently robust, or 90% or ... well who would say when one ceased to be an Anglican because of not observing the formularies? (Yeah, I know, technically a church court could say ... but when did one say that in recent memory in my church?). Plus there is the further difficulty re formularies as a criterion for being Anglican, namely that they are hard to enforce upon ordinary (i.e. unlicensed) lay people. To avoid any misunderstanding: Anglican formularies are important and all licensed ministers of the church, lay and ordained, should understand and fulfil their obligations in respect of them. I am not encouraging anything less than being a good, faithful and thorough Anglican. My point here is that I am not convinced that invoking the formularies is helpful when defining who is an Anglican these days.

Okay, cutting to the chase, Who is an Anglican these days? I put this forward for consideration:

An Anglican is someone self-identifying as an Anglican.

I would like to extend that to something like 'and expresses that identification in word and deed'. But I fear I would exclude those many Anglicans who do not actually attend church :)


Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

All this is very interesting and I'm thinking historically of the interplay between several broad Church Anglicans and leading Free Christian school Unitarians, where there was a swapping of aspects of religious culture and occasional transfer of personnel. I have a lot of Anglican dog inside me but I am closest to being Unitarian, though a member of neither.

Paul Powers said...

A remark attributed to William F. Buckley, Jr (a conservative US American writer) is that Anglicanism is so comprehensive that Pope Paul VI and Chairman Mao were both Anglicans without realizing it. Obviously that's an exaggeration, but an overly specific definition of Anglicanism almost seems itself to be un-Anglican. To paraphrase Potter Stewart, a former U.S. Supreme Court justice, when asked to define pornography: "I can't define it, but I know it when I see it."