Saturday, January 14, 2012


It is sad how far Anglicanism strays from its foundations. The key to being an Anglican-kind of Christian is that, in humility, we believe we offer a form of being Christian which is truer to Christ than any other form (or, alternatively, at least as true as any other form).* Historically, we claim to have shorn ourselves of the errors of Rome while avoiding the errors of our fellow Reformers. Contemporaneously, we claim that Rome still manifests some errors, while gently asserting that our continuing adherence to episcopal leadership was a good Reformation-decision which many fellow Reformers failed to make. When pressed about continuing Roman error, I discern that the widest Anglican agreement across our rainbow spectrum would be our agreement to disagree that the Bishop of Rome is 'supreme' in episcopal authority. (We might agree to disagree among ourselves about other aspects of the 'primacy' of Rome such as respect for the ancientness of its episcopal presence in the universal church).

To be true to Christ, however, involves Anglicans continuing to press into the inexhaustible riches of Christ (cf. Ephesians 3:8), always seeking to align ourselves with what Christ taught us directly and what the apostles faithfully taught about Christ for our benefit. Thus reading in John's gospel the other day I was struck afresh by familiar (over familiar?) words in John 14:1-14, and especially by the extraordinary words in 14:8-14:

"... whoever has seen me has seen the Father ... I am in the Father and the Father is in me ... I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works ..."

In these few words God is disclosed to be who Jesus Christ is, and who Jesus Christ is shows us who God is. The claim a few verses earlier "I am the way, the truth and the life" is not so much a claim about the uniqueness of Christ but about the completeness of Christ as revelation of God. Christ is not a better way to God than other ways, or more truthful about God than other claimants, or better at giving the divine life: God the Father being in the Son and the Son being in the Father, the truth about God is only found in Christ, apart from whom there is no other way to the Father, nor life from the Father.

If being Anglican is about being true to Christ then being true to Christ is about the scandal of particularity: God is Christ-shaped and Christ is the only revelation of the truth about God. There is no alternative.

Strangely Anglicanism in the past one hundred years or so has often seemed embarrassed about the completeness of Christ as the revelation of God, in particular shying away from the implication of this completeness, that Christ is, indeed, the unique way to the Father.

I do not think God owes any great allegiance to Anglicanism - God is under no obligation to continue our existence as a denomination, let alone as a 'branch' of Christianity. Nor for that matter do we have any obligation to the God who is met only in Jesus Christ to preach and promote that God: we are free to adapt Anglicanism as we see fit.

There is just the tiny problem that if we adapt Anglicanism as we see fit then, paradoxically, we become another proposal to be a way to God, alongside all other proposed ways, none of which, according to Christ are the way to God.

Better, by far, to re-envision ourselves as Anglican: those who seek to be truest to Christ, that is, those who proclaim that Christ is the complete vision of God and therefore the unique way to God.

*In saying this I am not trying to be 'the Judge of all churches' and treating the churches as though we are in an 'X Factor' competition determining who is the best ... guess what, the Anglican church is superior to all others! Rather I am simply stating that if I am a person of theological conviction (as I attempt to be) then there are reasons why I remain steadfast as an Anglican and do not become a Moravian, why when I studied at a Presbyterian college (and loved it) nevertheless I saw no convincing reason to continue with Presbyterianism. In other words, wowed though I am by Luther and Calvin, I find Hooker to offer a better way; impressed though I am by Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, indeed in agreement with them on many things, nevertheless I cannot agree with them on all things.


Father Ron Smith said...

Peter. Let us agree - on the fact that Jesus Christ was/is the unique human face of God. That is in Whom we put our trust. Perhaps we ought also to acknowledge that, as Jesus Christ became fully human, He has already redeemed (potentially) all of humanity.

I think it almost irrelevant to speak of our different Credally Christian Churches as in any way superior to the others. All who accept the historic Creeds, and administer the sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion are surely bonded into Christ. ("On My Father's House are many mansions")

Whatever provision God may have made for people who are faithful to their vision of God, in any way different from us, I believe that they, too, are redeemed by Christ. There is only One Redeemer.

When we start to judge others on the basis of their difference from ourselves, this is where the trouble lies - for all of us - whether Anglican or Orthodox or Roman Catholic. Mutual respect is ALL, and sadly, we tend to slip back into judgement. I know I do.
Lord have mercy!

Fr. J said...

Well said, and here here! If Anglicanism is any less or fashions itself to be any more than the Gospel, it is nothing. But if it is the Gospel, then it is worth fighting for, not for the sake of "denominations" but for the sake of the Truth.

(As an aside, it's worth noting that the little "capture" at the bottom of the page where I have to type in what it says to prove I am a human wants me simply to type in the word "fight." Do you think it knows what I just said? Hmmm...)

Father Ron Smith said...

Father Jake, Yes! The freedon of the Gospel in Christ is certainly worth fighting for. We don't want to be caught up in slavery to self-rightousness. "There is only One who is Good" - as Jesus told us in the Scriptures. Kyrie eleison!

Bryden Black said...

I myself sense these kinds of discussions invite the sort of assessment rendered by Ephraim Radner in his 1998 book, The End of the Church: A Pneumatology of Christian Division in the West. Which means one of the things going on in God's Providence is a profound conforming of the Church thus divided to Jesus' Cross .... A very painful and humbling conclusion.

Fr. J said...

Thank you for the positive reinforcement, Fr. Ron, but I'm afraid I cannot take credit for being Fr. Jake. The "J" stands for Jonathan, and that is who I am. :)

Father Ron Smith said...

Sorry, Jonathan, for mistaking you for Father Jake. however, I hold him in high regard - as I did your comment.

Agape, Fr. Ron