What does it mean to be Anglican?

Monday, 6th May 2013 at 20:42 UTC Leave a comment

I don’t really get how this question is so difficult to answer, yet it seems a cause of much debate. I’ve heard laity and clergy alike profess to have little idea what the answer is or should be. I suppose I have a pretty strong Anglican identity – I’ve grown up in the Church, loved, loathed and followed it in great detail for years. So for those of you who are confused, let me attempt to explain.

First and foremost, the mandate of the Church of England is to proclaim the Gospel afresh in each and every generation. I would extend this by adding that our job is to do this as both laity and clergy, through the parish model, the sacraments, use of the vernacular (people’s day-to-day languages) and in solidarity with the whole Anglican Communion and the wider Church. We are informed, but not constrained, by the rich and often divergent tradition we have inherited from generations past.

I realise that I haven’t necessarily included the Creeds in this, and that I could have used a phrase such as ‘the historic formularies’, and yes, we could probably add and subtract from the list for days. But does anyone want to argue that Anglicanism is based on something else? Yes, I’m sure the cynic will either say “Henry VIII’s divorces” or “being the Conservative Party at prayer”, but that aside, isn’t this the core of what we’re about?

There might be an argument that the parish model is broken, and yes, its not functioning nearly as well as when many more of us lived on farms and in villages, but the principle that we serve those living within our parish and not those who happen to be part of the club is important. We aim to keep parishes manageable in so far as resources allow.

Of course, this bares a lot of similarity to various other churches. Why, if this is what we seek to do, are we not Roman Catholics (aforementioned divorce aside)? I would offer this suggestion: that Anglicanism does not enforce a singular orthodoxy or claim the authority of an inerrant living person. Where the Roman Church dictates hard boundaries, we tend to negotiate them a bit more, and often prefer to move the boundaries than risk division.
(For the mathematicians, RC = bounded set, CofE = centred set.)

The other tradition that we should probably define our differences from are the Methodists. Here I think there is some need for hard reflection. The Methodist Church as a separate entity would not have been necessary or even feasible were it not for the failure of the Church of England to perform its mandated task. If we had actually been committed to deploying resources through parishes to where they were needed most, rather than cherry-picking the nicest parts of society, we would have found Methodism a welcome movement within the church.

I realise that the more Evangelical wing of the Church of England might wish to disagree with a couple of my points, so I should add them here. Yes, I think the sacraments are a core part of being Anglican. It is possible to take an Evangelical approach to all of these. The problem is one of failure to communicate their meanings and utilise them as tools through which to deliver Gospel truths. Evangelicals have much more to contribute to the debate around sacraments than they are currently doing. The same is often true about the churches traditions.

Do you have a definition you’d like to share? Is something above not quite right? Why do I have such a clear understanding of this thing called Anglicanism or am I just good at pretending I’m not confused?!


Entry filed under: Church, Culture, Faith.

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