The question of Anglican identity keeps itself before our eyes. T19 draws attention today to the formalization of primatial oversight for the Diocese of South Carolina by the Global South Primates Steering Committee. Thus 'being Anglican' is about episcopal oversight within the Anglican way of being church: the Diocese of South Carolina is receiving that kind of oversight. It is thoroughly and unmistakably Anglican ... or, let the arguments continue about true Anglican identity.
Identity questions lie at the heart of the ISIS Caliphate. Beyond the imposition of rule by terror lies a question about Islamic identity, explored by Steve Bell and Robert Fisk. One simple observation to be made from their reflections is that while many decry the Caliphate as 'not Islam' or 'not true to Islam', many within the Caliphate, neither an insubstantial population nor territory, happily concur that this is Islam faithfulness being expressed.
For some Anglicans, episcopal oversight means the bishop has a 'seat', a place to sit which we call a cathedral. Once again our local paper The Press brings the ongoing controversy over our cathedral to its frontpage. Anglican identity is being mixed up with local civic identity!
From a different perspective, Anglican identity is also bound up in answers to the question of access to Jesus. Recently here a very informed set of comments (to this post) touched on the 'presence of Jesus', how we discern it and how we experience it. Anglican identity is intimately tied to this question. Fostering notions of 'Real Presence', for instance, is integrated into notions of 'valid ordination' and thus to who the ordainer is, i.e. a genuine bishop or a (so to speak) imposter bishop - a question which arises as we debate the Anglican status of dioceses like South Carolina (i.e. the present bishop is properly Anglican, but will his successor be, etc).
But push 'Real Presence' theology too far (to say nothing of questions about valid ordination) and the question arises 'Why Anglican Catholic and not Roman Catholic?'
Of course these days some Anglicans are answering that question by moving to Rome. There is a robust honesty in taking that step. To not take that step, if one is arguing along Real Presence lines, must be to allow that some criticisms of Roman theology from the English Reformation still stand. That, logically, should mean that we value the place of Scripture as God's written Word in the life of our church, a place from which all claims we make in respect of custom and tradition are subject to the critique of Scripture. When, for instance, this Sunday coming we read Matthew 16:13-20, we concur that the rock on which the church Christ builds is as much the confession of Peter as Peter himself, and then we demur that Peter's role in the founding of the church is a primatial role.
But the confession that Jesus is Messiah, the Son of the living God confronts us with Jesus the one in whom God has become flesh (the insight of John's Gospel) and the one who conquered death and is alive for evermore (the witness of the New Testament). The presence of this Christ in the world today is mediated through the Holy Spirit. There is no church being built by Christ which has its foundation a correct interpretation of the eucharist. The only church being built by Christ has at its foundation a correct understanding of who Jesus is, an understanding, according to John's Gospel, which the Spirit teaches us.
Back to the question of Anglican identity. Somewhere in our debates about our identity appears to lurk a danger that we place an emphasis on the institution of the church (who correctly belongs to the correct Communion), rather than on the confession of the church, that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God.
Where that confession is, there the name of Jesus is embedded in the character of the church. When we gather in that name, Jesus is present among us (with or without communion bread and wine).
We could have a roll call at such a gathering and call out the name of Jesus. He would respond, 'Present and correct.'
What Anglicans are wrestling with as we consider the state and status of the Diocese of South Carolina is whether our 'Anglican' version of the church is based on confession and not institutional requirements, and thus whether that Diocese confesses with us what we believe and the peculiarity of how we believe.