Mention the Diocese of South Carolina or ACNA and a stock standard liberal response here at ADU if not elsewhere is that they are not Anglicans as they do not belong to the Anglican Communion. It strikes me that for all the noise liberals make about rules not defining and binding us as Christians there is one rule which liberal Anglicans always follow: to be an Anglican you must belong to a church which belongs to the Anglican Communion.
This is, of course, a very useful rule because it means that it doesn't matter what happens in The Episcopal Church, even the most egregious exegesis by its Presiding Bishop, everything is Anglican because it has taken place within or been uttered by the chief leader of an 'official' Anglican church, one that belongs to the Anglican Communion.
But the serious issue here is what makes an Anglican an Anglican. Is belonging to the Anglican Communion the sine qua non of being a proper Anglican? Is it allegiance to the prayer book as in the BCP (which one?) or its local successor? (Some discussion along these lines occurs at Liturgy) Then there is the important corporate dimension of Anglicanism. What makes a diocese and a province 'Anglican'? Three recent essays at Living Church tackle this question, with specific reference to the current and future status of the Diocese of South Carolina which, shall we say, has stepped aside from TEC for the time being.
Jesse Zink, "Why Provinces Matter?" astutely observes:
"Hierarchy in the church is a bedeviling issue. The Episcopal Church itself has not provided persuasive reasons why hierarchy is necessary on a provincial level but unnecessary on a Communion-wide level. Surely for a church that defines its existence in terms of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church, hierarchy cannot stop at the water’s edge?"
He then strikes a challenging note on Anglican ecclesiology:
"As in Scripture, so also in ecclesiology: the pernicious hermeneutic of self-justification remains a constant temptation. This is regrettable. Ecclesiology is not a minor administrative matter that can be casually tossed aside. It is part of the core good news Christians have to proclaim. In a globalizing world that is dominated by discord and fracture, the Church makes the counter-cultural claim that in baptism we come to belong to the body of Christ. No other entity is shaped by a common willingness to die daily with Christ and be raised with him who is the author of true and abundant life. We believe we belong, and that this is good news. Anglicans work out the implications of this radical claim in the constellation of parishes, dioceses, provinces, networks, and institutions that comprise our global Communion.
The dispute in South Carolina could provide an opportunity — yet unrealized — to think seriously about the ecclesiological and theological convictions underlying Anglican churches."
William Witt weighs in with further angles on the subtle issues at stake in the ecclesiology evolving out of current disputes. His diplomatic language barely disguises a ruthless demolition - emboldened by me - of TEC's pretension to being one, holy, catholic and apostolic church:
"The issue that is little addressed in such discussions is the theological nature of episcopacy. What does it mean to be a bishop? Standard Church histories make clear that the office of bishop is about continuity, specifically continuity between the apostolic Church and the catholic Church of the second century. To be a bishop is to recognize and submit oneself to the canonical authority of the Old and New Testaments as the faithful witness of prophets and apostles to the triune God revealed in the history of Israel, the saving work of Jesus Christ, and the Church as summarized in the Rule of Faith.
Whether bishops of the Episcopal Church have acted in continuity with this apostolic Church in proceeding to approve of same-sex unions is precisely the issue that is splitting the Anglican Communion. There are, of course, issues of universality involved as well. A bishop is a bishop not just for a local diocese but for the whole Church. In the long run, an extra-provincial diocese accountable only to itself is problematic. But then again, a national church that refuses to be accountable to an international communion has brought the Anglican Communion to its current crisis, even as a bishop who does not understand his chief role to keep intact the apostolic witness has rather missed the point of being a bishop."
Then Colin Podmore, "Beyond Provincialism," offers astute observations about recent Anglican history when the Diocese of Hong Kong and Macao divided itself into four dioceses in order to become a province, precisely so as not to continue association with a larger but conservative province. A way forward for South Carolina? With this parting shot at TEC at the end of the essay,
"the most important question facing the Anglican Communion is not whether dioceses can exist other than temporarily without being subject to provincial or other metropolitical jurisdiction (in catholic and Anglican ecclesiology they cannot), but whether provinces should not in turn defer to the councils of the wider Church."
There is much to ponder here. I offer two further observations.
(1) I do not have to belong to an Anglican church to be an Anglican, provided I have commitment and intention to belong to an Anglican church. Let me explain. I would not challenge for a second a person who said to me, "I am an Anglican but I worship in a Methodist church. I was brought up Anglican, I remain Anglican in my heart and mind, but ever since I married I have belonged with my wife to her Methodist church. If I were widowed I know I would go back to worshiping in an Anglican church."*
Analogously, I suggest that the Diocese of South Carolina remains Anglican although it has stepped apart from TEC. It has the intention and commitment to belong to the Anglican Communion (that is, formally belong; I understand the Diocese to collectively believe that informally it does belong). That is, just as in the individual example above, the Anglican husband has a plausible reason for not currently belonging formally to an Anglican church, so the Diocese of South Carolina has a plausible reason for not currently belonging to TEC. That is the Diocese disputes the fact that TEC remains, pace Witt, "in continuity with [the] apostolic Church". It is noteworthy that in making such dispute South Carolina is not an idiosycratic diocese but is supported by many Anglican provinces to say nothing of many individual Anglicans, such as myself, in provinces which otherwise maintain goodwill relationship with TEC.
(2) We should take care to not place too much emphasis on the character of Anglicanism being determined by the rules of Anglicans. The true innermost character of Anglican churches is that we are Christian churches, faithful to Christ, in continuity with the one, holy, apostolic and catholic church which Christ founded. The BCP or any Anglican prayer book is nothing save for the fact that it gives expression to this character. Bishops, priests and deacons are nobodies save for the fact that we are faithful to the 'doctrine of Christ' as expressed in our prayer books, articles and constitutions. The Anglican Communion is a fantasy (or a lie!) if it is not a Communion with the Christ who founded the one, holy, apostolic and catholic church. If the rules of Anglicans define Anglicanism in such a way as to exclude Christians determined to be Anglican in the character of their mission and ministry then the rules need reform.
As Bryden Black lamented here recently, the Anglican Covenant is much missed at this point. Its precise contribution to present Anglican difficulties, if we would adopt it, is to renew our understanding of what being Anglican means in respect of common theology. By avoiding adoption we are left with Anglicanism defined by rules which are now out of date.