Monday, April 21, 2003

The Perils of Anglicanism

As long-time readers of this site may know, I consider myself an evangelical Anglican. I was baptized into the Episcopal Church, and it is in services in accordance with the Anglican Book of Common Prayer that I feel most at home, though I do enjoy contemporary services as well, particularly those of NLCF here at Virginia Tech (unless you go to Tech or Radford, you don't have NLCF, but it's similar to Campus Crusade for Christ). I call myself an Anglican rather than an Episcopalian because the Episcopal Church, USA (ECUSA) has a very poor record of following Anglican doctrine, especially on matters such as ordination of practicing homosexuals, allowing remarriage for those divorced, entering into reciprocal clergy agreements with denominations not believing in apostolic succession, and harassing priests (and bishops) who attempt to correct this drift [links will come later today]. The bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Southwest Virginia is an open supporter of Planned Parenthood and has harassed evangelical congregations, including inviting his third largest church to leave ECUSA, causing them to join up with the Anglican Mission in America (AMiA), a mission co-sponsored by the dioceses of Rwanda and Southeast Asia. This situation is prevalent in all the English-speaking nations, with the Anglican provinces (the Anglican Communion is a confederation of usually national autonomous provinces each headed by an archbishop or presiding bishop) tending to be more conservative and condemning the liberal tendencies of ECUSA, the Church of England, and those in Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. I fully expect that there will be a major schism between the evangelical/conservative and liberal wings, with it more likely that the evangelicals will walk out and form their own denomination and leave the church buildings to the liberals and Anglo-Catholics (though not necessarily).

In any case, Anglicanism is somewhat distinct on the landscape of Christian denominations. Its foundations were laid prior to receiving missionaries from Rome, and while it was later incorporated into the Roman Catholic Church, it had a strong tendency to act independently. Thus, when Henry VIII declared that the Church of England no longer owed allegiance to the Pope (whom Anglicans consider to merely be the [arch]Bishop of Rome), it wasn't part of the Reformation which led to Luther and Calvin's schisms, though it was influenced by them. Later, the Wesley brothers' very-Protestant strain of Anglicanism broke off, so that Wesleyanism (the United Methodist Church in the US) should properly be considered a Reformation denomination. While having strong influences from each, Anglicanism is neither a branch of Roman Catholicism nor of Reformed Protestantism. Historically, it might therefore be considered to be more of an Orthodox church, like the Russian, Greek, and Coptic churches, but is different enough theologically that it shouldn't really be considered as such. Thus, those who study denominations usually list the four major strains of Christianity as Catholic, Anglican, Protestant, and Orthodox (sometimes varying the order to suit personal preference, though I like the acronym CAPO). If you're familiar with the World's Smallest Political Quiz, you could superimpose the four strains on there, with it being possible to link any two together in closeness depending on the criteria used.

If you asked my (Southern Baptist) Bible study leader, Kyle, what I am, he'd tell you that I'm a Catholic. If you asked another member of our study, (Roman Catholic) John, he'd tell you that I'm a Protestant. Liberal Protestants and Roman Catholics will tell you that Anglicans are Protestants, while evangelical Protestants will describe them as Catholics. Anglicans variously describe themselves as Catholic, Protestant, or neither (any of which could be true, since many matters of theology, such as transubstantiation, are open to interpretation by Anglicans: if you think that the Eucharist is literally the body and blood of Christ, then for you it is, and if you don't, then it isn't). I maintain that Anglicanism should be described either as both Catholic and Protestant or neither (at least in Virginia, Orthodoxy has such a small presence that it's rarely considered, and thus I'll leave it out in the rest of this post).

Why is it both? It's Protestant in that it rejects the infallibility of the Pope and thus allegiance ot Rome, doesn't recognize activities outside of Communion and Baptism as sacraments, and generally recognizes all other Christian denominations as valid professions of the faith (this doesn't mean that their ministers ought to administer the sacraments to Anglicans, though). It's Catholic in that it maintains apostolic succession with a heirarchical organization, that there are actual sacraments as opposed to just traditional practices, and is strongly liturgical. These are just samples; there are many issues where the Anglican Communion aligns with Protestants on one issue and Catholics on the next (often, it is simply left up to the individual to decide). Thus, John looks at me and sees that I don't follow the Pope or believe in the Immaculate Conception and concludes that I'm a Protestant (heretic!), while Kyle sees that I believe in infant baptism and apostolic succession and decides that I'm a Catholic (papist!). Both have a case, but both have an incomplete view.

My views have been shifting slightly more towards Catholicism on the continuum lately, though I'm certainly nowhere near embracing Roman Catholicism. According to the SelectSmart Religion Selector, I match 100% with the views of the Orthodox and Catholics, and only 94% with conservative Protestants (the differences probably came from my views on science and on salvation solely by a believer's belief). Coming next, after I add links to many concepts listed here, I will enumerate my beliefs. I base my theology on a combination of logic, observation, and the Bible, which will be explained in the upcoming post.

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