Anglican Identity in the 21st Century by The Most Rev’d Drexel W. Gomez I. In 1883 the eight Anglican dioceses in the West Indies – Jamaica, Belize, Nassau with the Turks and Caicos Islands, Antigua, Windward Islands, Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago and British Guyana – agreed to form a new Anglican Province to be known as “The Church in the Province of the West Indies”. All of these dioceses existed in British colonial territories in which the official church of the colonial overlord formed part of the political and religious identity of the colonies. It was only natural for these colonies, and other territories elsewhere, to be attached to the mother church in England, the Church of England. It is no accident that the term ‘Anglican’ derives etymologically from the Latin Anglicanus – meaning English. The term Ecclesia Anglorum (the church of the English people) goes back to Pope Gregory the Great who used it in his letters to Augustine of Canterbury early in the seventh century. The expression ‘Ecclesia Anglicana’ was commonly used from the middle of the twelfth century to describe the Church of England which, at that time referred to the two provinces of the western church situated in England with antecedents going as far back in history as the early fourth century. At the time of the sixteenth century Reformation the Church of England rejected the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Rome along with certain medieval departures from the faith of the undivided church. Anglicans defended their continuity with the pre-Reformation Church rebuffed charges of schism, and refuted the claims of the papacy. Thus they emphasised the catholicity of the Church of England, as a church that lacked no essential part of the catholic faith and order. At the same time, however, they upheld the fully reformed character of the Church of England. There is no doubt whatsoever that Anglicans in the Church in the Province of the West Indies are highly indebted to the Church of England as a major contributor to their spiritual, theological and doctrinal formation. II. The Anglican Communion is comprised of approximately 44 national or regional churches around the world. These churches are often called provinces, though some of them, like the Church of England with its two provinces – Canterbury and York, are made up of more than one province. The Episcopal Church in the United States and the Anglican Church of Canada are also comprised of several provinces. The Communion, whose membership totals approximately 75 million, is a family of churches, all of which are self-governing (autonomous), while being united with each other in fellowship or communion (koinonia). Ideally, this means that their autonomy is certainly not either the first word or the last word to be said about them. At least as important is the fact that they exist in a relationship of spiritual and pastoral interdependence. Anglican apologists are united in the assertion that there is a state of symbiosis between Anglican churches that is grounded in two factors.
The first factor contributing to the symbiosis of Anglican churches is a common faith and order enshrined in a common tradition, expressed in liturgy, spirituality and theology. The liturgical tradition derives from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer (BCP), which was universally reflected in Anglican liturgies until recently, and is still a powerful, though sometimes unacknowledged influence. Traditionally, Anglican worship revolves around Morning and Evening Prayer (Mattins and Evensong) and the Eucharist or Holy Communion. Other forms of service may be authorised by the bishop from time to time. In Anglican worship, words, music, colour, decoration, sacred imagery, movement (and sometimes incense) are all used to glorify God and uplift the worshipper. There is a balance and complementarity of word and sacrament, as befits a church that is both catholic and reformed. The tradition of spirituality stems substantially, but by no means exclusively from the Caroline divines, representing the flowering of Anglican spiritual writing during the reign of Charles I. This tradition continued throughout the 17th century. Its great exponents include Lancelot Andrews, George Herbert, Thomas Frahene and Jeremy Taylor. The biblical, sacramental and practical character of Anglican spirituality reflects the seminal influence of Richard Hooker. One would argue that the greatest influence on Anglican spirituality is the Book of Common Prayer itself. The Anglican tradition of theology is linked to liturgy and closely allied to spirituality. At its best, it is a lived, prayed and applied theology. In the Anglican practice of theology, scripture, tradition and reason have their allotted places and are held in particular balance and relationship, just as they are in the BCP and in the classical Anglican divines. For Anglicans, the bible is the primary source of Christian theology, and, in showing the way of salvation, does not need to be supplemented by tradition. Even the creeds are to be believed because they are firmly grounded in scripture. Both scripture and tradition are interpreted by means of reason which is to be exercised humbly, collectively and prayerfully. The second factor that holds the churches of the Communion in a relationship of symbiosis is made up of their participation in the ‘Instruments of Communion’. There are four ‘Instruments of Communion’: 1. There is the Lambeth Conference of all bishops (or at least all the diocesan bishops) of the Communion, together with bishops of ‘churches in communion ‘with the Anglican Communion, who come together at the invitation of Archbishop of Canterbury. The first Lambeth Conference was held in 1867 and the most recent in 2008. They take place at ten-yearly intervals, and so far have always been held in England. The Lambeth Conference is not the governing body of the Anglican Communion; it is a conference of Bishops who come together to confer with one another, to share their experiences, problems and insights. The resolutions of the Conference have only moral and pastoral authority in the communion; they are not legally binding on the member churches or provinces until they have been adopted by the synods of the provinces. However, the moral and pastoral authority of the Anglican episcopate should be quite sufficient for any faithful Anglican and for any provincial synod of the Communion.
2. The second instrument of communion is the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC). This is an elective, representative body made up of laity, clergy and bishops. The ACC meets every three years and acts as the standing committee of the Communion. It reflects on major issues, especially matters concerned with mission and with cohesion of the Communion. Like the Lambeth Conference, the ACC does not have any legislative or juridical authority. 3. The third instrument of communion is the Primates’ Meeting. The Primates are the metropolitans, or senior Archbishops of the Communion. They are gathered by the Archbishop of Canterbury to discuss together issues affecting the life of the Communion. 4. The fourth instrument of communion is the office and ministry of the Archbishop of Canterbury. The Archbishop of Canterbury occupies a unique place within Anglicanism. The See of Canterbury, the first metropolitan see within the communion, was founded by St. Augustine of Canterbury in 507. Traditionally the litmus test of membership of the Anglican Communion is to be in communion with the See of Canterbury. Of course, this cannot be the only condition for membership of the Communion. A common faith and order – a shared tradition of theology, liturgy and spirituality – and participation in the instruments of communion are also involved; but it is the ultimate criterion. III. The essential character of the Communion has been articulated by various Lambeth Conferences; the Conference of 1930 is often quoted in this regard. Resolutions 48 and 49 state: “The Anglican Communion is a fellowship, within one holy, catholic and apostolic church, of these duly constituted dioceses, provinces, or regional churches in communion with the See of Canterbury, which have the following characteristics in common: a) They uphold and propagate the catholic and apostolic faith and order as they are generally set forth in the Book of Common Prayer as authorised in their several churches; b) They are particular or national churches, and as such, promote within each of their territories a national expression of Christian faith, life and worship; and c) They are bound together not by a central legislative and executive authority but by mutual loyalty sustained by the common counsel of the bishops in conference” According to the 1930 Conference, the Anglican Communion is a “fellowship”, made up of properly constituted dioceses, provinces or regional churches that are in communion with the See of Canterbury and share three basic characteristics: 1. They maintain ‘the catholic and apostolic faith’ in the tradition of the Book of Common Prayer (BCP)
2. They are ‘particular or national churches’ ministering within a given territory and promoting a cultured expression of the Christian faith within the context of the nation’s history and experience 3. They are bound together no by a central juridical authority but by “mutual loyalty sustained by the common counsel of the bishops in conference” The 1930 definition suggests several aspects of the Anglican Communion that are worth serious attention: a) It is not incidental that the Anglican Communion describes itself as a communion. Its shared experience is one of fellowship. Anglican apologists place emphasis on the fact that by adopting from its early days the designation of a communion, and by striving to maintain its communion through thick and thin, Anglicanism seems well placed to contribute to the current discussion of koinonia within ecumenical theology b) The Anglican Communion belongs to the one holy, catholic and apostolic church. But they do not believe that they are the only ones who so belong. The Anglican churches claim their rightful place in the one church but they do not believe that they are the only ones with a rightful claim c) The faith and order of the Anglican Communion are held to be those that are characteristic of the Christian church. They are set out in certain authoritative Anglican formularies, particularly the BCP (which is probably intended here to include The Thirtynine Articles and the Ordinal). It is acknowledged that the BCP has been both accepted and adapted throughout the communion d) The Anglican Communion is not geared to centralisation or uniformity e) The Anglican Communion has a common focus in the office of the Archbishop of Canterbury, its most ancient metropolitical see. The practical test of membership is being in communion with the See of Canterbury. f) However, neither the Archbishop of Canterbury nor the Lambeth Conference is given the authority to rule the Communion. The common counsel of bishops, meeting in the Lambeth Conference, is intended to guide the life of the Communion. Its bonds re therefore those of mutual loyalty and committed fellowship. g) Implicit in the 1930 statement is the conciliar nature of Anglicanism. The Anglican Communion, with the Lambeth Conference, its ACC, its Primates’ Meeting and its structures of synodical government at local diocesan and provincial or national levels, provides a striking example of conciliar ecclesiology – Anglicanism implements the principle of representative government in which all estates of the church can make their voices heard and in which the bishops remain the guardians of doctrine and worship. IV. The conference committee of the 1930 Lambeth Conference set out the following “ideals for which the Church of England has always stood.” These ideals are not unique: “they are the ideals of the Church of Christ. Prominent among them are an open bible, a pastoral priesthood,
a common worship, a standard of conduct consistent with that worship and a fearless love of truth.” The qualifying adjectives are highly significant. The Bible is open: available, unchained, not subject to control and binding interpretation by ecclesiastical authority. The pre-eminent place accorded to Holy Scripture in the Anglican formularies is no mere lip service, but is matched by the freedom enjoyed by Anglican laity since the 16th century Reformation to read and study the Bible in the vernacular, and to arrive at their own conviction and to express them. There is no equivalent in Anglicanism to the requirement of the Roman Catholic Church that the faithful should accept the teaching of the magisterium with unquestionable submission. Anglicans are encouraged to make a discernment of the truth, to form their convictions in the light of conscience and to seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit, paying due heed to the teachings of authority, but owning it for themselves. The priesthood is pastoral: neither a separate caste, closer to God than the rest and serving to restrict the spiritual privileges of the people of God, nor a didactic, scribal, rabbinic, judicatory order that lays down the law as to belief and practice and is entrusted with the duty of policing its enforcement. Anglican priesthood is certainly a priesthood – it has authoritative, sacramental and even mediatorial functions (provided that these are understood as related to the priestly character of the people of God who are baptised into Christ’s priestly office) – but priesthood that involves all the gentleness, the attention to human needs, the listening ear and the solidarity in our human condition, of the true pastor. Worship is common: that is to say, not performed by a vicarious priesthood on behalf of liturgically unqualified laity, but shared by the whole priestly body of the church whose comprehending participation is vital. As Vatican II acknowledged, it is the community that celebrates the sacraments, under the presidency of its pastors. Traditionally, Anglican worship is in the vernacular and revolves around Morning and Evening Prayer and the Eucharist or Holy Communion. Other forms of service, such as family services, may be authorised by the Bishop from time to time. Income Anglican churches, in practice there is considerable local discretion about the form of service to be used. Anglicanism’s love of truth is (or should be) fearless. The scholarly pursuit of truth and the conscientious witness to it are safe guarded in Anglicanism. Traditionally, Anglicanism has placed a special value on scholarly integrity and has permitted a remarkable breadth of theological opinion to flourish within its borders. Another inference from the 1930 Lambeth Conference is found in the Anglican insistence on maintaining “the historic threefold ministry of bishops, priests and deacons.” Certainly, since1662, Anglicans have invariably insisted on episcopal ordination. I agree with those scholars who opine that Anglicans generally have held to episcopal ordination in historic succession because they have regarded it as an aspect of the catholicity and apostolicity of the church. This is a feature that Anglicans share with the major historic communions of the Christian Church – Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Old Catholic and some Lutheran churches. Episcopacy is the primitive order; it has been maintained by the oldest and largest churches of Christendom. There is an ecumenical consensus in which episcopacy has a secure place in the pattern of the full visible unity or full visible communion that we seek. Anglicanism is proud to participate in this ecumenical consensus.
Additionally, Anglicanism has an impressive record in ecumenical relations. The Anglican Communion is in communion with several other families of churches – the Old Catholic churches of the Union of Utrecht, mostly in Europe, through the Bonn Agreement of 1930-1, the Mar Thoma Church of South India, the Philippine Independent Church, and two small churches in Spain and Portugal. The Anglican Communion is an active member of the World Conference of Churches (WCC) and a participant in the emerging World Christian Forum. In addition, several member churches of the Communion have entered into communion with other churches. V.
The distinctiveness of the Anglican tradition can be summarised by the following points: 1. Anglicans profess the orthodox Trinitarian and Christological faith of the whole Church. 2. Anglicans acknowledge that they receive that faith from the Church on the authority of the Bible and the creeds 3. Anglicans confess that the creeds derive their authority from scripture, directly or indirectly 4. Anglicans insists that the Scriptures themselves are primarily concerned with teaching the way of salvation, rather than, say, prescribing for every detail of worship or practice. 5. Anglicans recognise that the Church’s inheritance from scripture and tradition requires interpretation and application in a manner relevant to changing circumstances 6. Anglicans deplore innovation in the area of the fundamental tenets of the Christian faith. 7. Anglicanism aspires to be a catholic faith. Its roots go deep into Christian antiquity, and secure continuity of faith and order, and worship and witness from the Apostles. The catholicity of Anglicanism rests on the continuity of worship and of pastoral care. Anglican catholicity rests also on the retention of the threefold order of bishops, priests and deacons in the historic succession. Above all, the catholic character of Anglicanism is revealed in its adherence to the scriptures, the creeds and the general councils of the undivided church, which give its Christological and Trinitarian doctrines. The catholicity of Anglican faith is further evidenced in its acknowledgement of the authority of the Church to adjudicate in disputed matters of faith, provided that is does so in harmony with scripture (Article XX). In appealing to the authority of the church gathered in council, Anglicanism shows itself to belong to the conciliar as opposed to the monarchical tradition of Catholicism. 8. Anglicanism aspires to be a reformed faith. The essentially reform character of Anglicanism is evidence above all in the place that it gives to Holy Scripture as the norm by which all other sources of Christian truth are evaluated. It was the reliance on scripture that led the Reformers to reject certain aspects of medieval Roman Catholicism – the universal jurisdiction of the Pope, withholding the cup from the laity,
the liturgy in a tongue that excluded the people from meaningful participation, compulsory clerical celibacy, mandatory sacramental confession, purgatory and the treasury of merits. 9. Anglicanism aspires to be a reasonable faith. Historically, Anglicanism has proved to be amazingly tolerant of the clash of opinion in its own ranks. “The vocation of Anglicanism is to create the climate of spiritual liberty in which individuals may bear witness to the truth as they see it, submitting themselves to the criticism of the peers without fear of ecclesiastical censorship.” But there is a necessary caveat – “however, the indispensable condition of this liberty is continued participation in the worshipping life of the church and profession of the fundamental baptismal faith.” 10. In pursuit of spiritual liberty, Anglicanism has developed a broad comprehensiveness that is admired by many, while others find it frustrating. Unlike the Roman Catholic Church, we have no magisterium or authoritative teaching office and our historic approach to the question of authority has proven troublesome for many. Anglican sources of authority are dispersed through many channels but we have yet to produce an authoritative mechanism for resolution of conflict. Despite these concerns, Anglicanism has exhibited considerable tolerance and restraint that gave scope to sound learning and offered a home and an environment that is congenial to the fearless pursuit of truth. I conclude with a passage from Paul Avis, “The Identity of Anglicanism.” “Anglicanism does indeed attempt to hold together elements that are opposed in other traditions – though not without with out strain. It defines itself as catholic and reformed, orthodox in doctrine, yet open to change in its application. Its polity is both episcopal and synodical – an unusual combination in a church that has maintained the historic episcopate. It acknowledges an ecumenical council as the highest authority in the church, but it is not opposed, in principle, to a universal primacy. It confesses the paramount authority of Scripture, but reveres tradition and hearkens to the voice of culture and society. It tries to be neither centralised nor fragmented, neither authoritarian nor anarchic. It is comprehensive without being relativistic. This interesting experiment has endured and evolved for nearly five centuries, [and] in spite of the present difficulties, I believe that it is worth persevering with.”
Questions for Discussion 1. “Anglicanism accords a pre-eminent place to Holy Scripture.” How is this demonstrated at the level of the local church in the CPWI? 2. “Anglicanism aspires to be both Catholic and Reformed.” What importance is attached to these aspirations at the level of the local church in the CPWI?
3. “Anglicans recognise that the church’s inheritance from Scripture and tradition requires interpretation and application in a manner relevant to changing circumstances.” Discuss with special reference to the place of reason in Anglicanism. 4. “Anglicanism has developed a broad comprehensiveness that is admired by many while others find it frustrating.” What importance is attached to the pursuit of spiritual liberty in the CPWI? 5. “In Anglicanism the priesthood is pastoral.” Does your experience of the ordained ministry in the CPWI support this affirmation? 6. “In Anglicanism worship is common.” a. What importance do you attach to this affirmation? b. At the level of the local church in the CPWI, what efforts are being made to deepen the awareness that, a “comprehending participation” of the worshipping community is vital?