Sunday, July 01, 2007

The Future of the traditional Anglicanism in America

A friend alerted me to this post from the blog site "Standing Firm: Traditional Anglicanism in America." In this essay the Rev. Dr. J. Douglas McGlynn compares the situation in which the Reformed Episcopal Church emerged with the situation of the traditional Anglicans now leaving the "official" Episcopal Church and makes some keen observations about the parallels.

I'd like to make some observations as well. As I've noted in the past, I don't like following what is happening in global Anglicanism, instead urging a return of modern Anglicans to the foundations of their faith (the Scriptures, the Creeds, the historic Prayer Books, the writings of the Anglican divines, etc). Not that I do not care about what is happening in ECUSA (or "The Episcopal Church," or whatever moniker it wishes to adopt), only that I tire of hearing people express the belief that Canterbury will come to its senses and somehow bring the "official" American church back in line with something that resembles historic Christianity.

That being said, there are parallels with the emergence of the REC, the emergence of the "Continuum" of the 1970s, and the emergence of AMiA and like-minded recent groups. First off, all of these groups sought to "continue" something in the face of beliefs or practices they found to be objectionable. Within the REC the motivating factors that resulted in the break with PECUSA were 1) a debate about baptismal regeneration (in previous posts I've argued that this was a debate in which both groups were wrong in certain ways and argued past one another); 2) a debate about ecumenicism, with a growing Anglo-Catholic element in PECUSA drawing back from relations with traditional Protestant groups; 3) elements of Anglo-Catholic practice that many evangelical and traditional high churchmen found too close to Roman Catholic doctrine (purgatory, transubstantiation, use of various Missals that approximated the Roman Mass, etc) and at odds with the English Reformation documents and Prayer Book. So, Bishop Cummins departed and Cheney was consecrated in the first major Anglican schism in America. A declaration of principles reasserting some tenets of the English Reformation were drawn up (nothing that you can't find in the writings of Hooker--so far all well and good). However, there was no huge leap of evangelical from PECUSA into the REC. As the article linked to above suggests, perhaps by the time the schism occured the momentum for growth had passed; many who may have agreed with Cummins and Cheney probably stayed in their comfortable pews.

In time the Reformed Episcopal Church seemed quite unsure of what it wanted to be. It originally wanted to be an umbrella for evangelicals of all stripes, united around biblical liturgical worship; indeed this is still an attraction of many to Anglicanism today. However, what was the Anglicanism that the REC wanted to continue? Was it a via media between the errors of Puritan and Papist alike? In time the REC seemed to present something less than the Anglicanism of Richard Hooker or John Jewel. A new list of "Articles" were drawn up that seemed a hodge podge of different emphases that tended to have no continuity with the 39 Articles of the historic Church of England. One of the failures to draw other Anglicans into the new movement after its emergence may have been this discontinuity with traditional Anglicanism. It has often been said jokingly that the REC were a bunch of Presbyterians with Prayer Books--this might be said to be an offense against Presbyterians, in that much of their theology was more high church than that of the REC. It wasn't until the last 15 to 20 years that the Reformed Episcopal Church made a concerted effort to reclaim both the Articles of the English Reformation and the Prayer Book of 1662 in their entirety as the basis for doctrine and worship. With this reclamation both growth and ecumenical relations with other Anglican groups has been possible. The Reformed Episcopal Church needed to move past simply being an "anti-Anglo-Catholic" body and move towards being a positive expression of historic Anglicanism. As an Anglo-Catholic in the REC, I can saw that I am thankful that she exists as a solid group dedicated to classical Anglicanism.

How does this history parallel the movements of the 1970s and today? Well, each exodus from ECUSA has tended to be based upon a negative searching for a positive. The REC could not sustain itself on being a body reacting against another--it needed a positive focus, but meandered until it came back to its roots of continuing the goals of the historic Anglican Reformation. When the continuing movement of the 1970s left ECUSA it was largely over liberalism, the ordination of women, and the overthrow of the Cranmerian-Laudian Prayer Book (replaced with a feel good Vatican II hodge podge). However, most leaving ECUSA at the time were Anglo-Catholics, leaving many low-churchmen to feel that this new movement was not for them (the United Episcopal Church was begun as a "continuing church" with a low-church emphasis, serving as a haven for those uncomfortable with the Anglo-Catholicism of other groups). The Articles have been consistently downplayed in parts of the Continuum, the Prayer Book largely supplanted by a Missal, and in many places the theology is very close to the Roman Catholicism of Vatican I. Growth and intra-Anglican outreach has only occurred as a result of centering the Anglican identity around the Articles and the Prayer Book: the recent full communion between the Anglican Province of America and the Reformed Episcopal Church is a good example of this trend. In other places intra-Anglican agreement has been reached by largely rejecting the Reformation and downplaying the Articles to the point of irrelevance--the recent full communion between the Anglican Catholic Church and the United Episcopal Church is an example of such a trend. The United Episcopal Church once had more in common with the REC, being a low-church body stating that it held firm to the Articles as a "defense against man's efforts to alter the Truth" (I'm paraphrasing from their website content several years back). Now the Articles are mentioned as a historic footnote and communion has been reached with a body that has done likewise. The parallel here with the REC is a reworking of Anglicanism into something new, something lacking historical continuity with the original body. In this case Anglicanism is now simply an Anglo-Catholicism closer to Rome than to Orthodoxy or the Anglican divines of the 16th and 17th centuries. Such a decision has a tendency to result in isolation from other Anglican groups, with movement closer to Rome in theology and practice. Indeed, the "via media" is now not seen by such groups as between extremes in error, but simply as a pair of helping hands reaching between Protestantism and Rome.

What of the recent movement? Most will recognize that it is a reaction against the ordination of homosexual men to the priesthood and their consecration to the episcopate. This was the final straw that broke the back of most now deciding that a new network of parishes is the answer to the current problems. However, what will the new movement center around that is positive? Most in this movement were raised within a church where the "new" Prayer Book of the 1970s was the norm, where abortion was largely tolerated, where women's ordination was not much of a question, and where distinctly Anglican theology was not taught. In the early days of AMiA parish web sites would describe infant baptism as a "dedication ceremony" and even now few parishes use the historic editions of the Book of Common Prayer, relying instead on the 1979 Prayer Book or the work of a parish liturgist to piece together services from various sources. The new groups daily emerging from the Episcopal Church seem to be following the same trend--they have had little contact with historic Anglicanism, that which served as the mainstay of worship and doctrine for hundreds of years. Instead they are emerging from a church where "the Prayer Book" bares only the same title as the work of Archbishop Cranmer, where orthodoxy itself has been watered down to a minimum. What to continue? What does this term "Anglican" even mean? It seems they too are slowly moving (back) towards historic Anglicanism. Father McGlynn has it quite right in many respects. For the flourishing of traditional Anglicanism to take place it must find its voice, not in negations but in affirmations. I believe that the center of this affirmative foundation is to be found in the Scriptures, the Creeds, the historic doctrines of the English Reformation, the Articles, and the orthodox worship handed down to us over hundreds of years.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for this article.

Having not read Dr. McGlynn, I dare comment anyway. If we are contemplating a return to an Anglicanism which would be closer to Orthodoxy and the Anglican Divines, the problem with implementing such a scheme is that such Anglicanism is a small minority throughout the Communion.

The AMiA, CANA and now KACA (Kenya) are each sponsored by Provinces which have abandoned classical Anglicanism for a new and emerging "conservative" liturgical protestantism. (e.x. using liturgies more similar to the '79 than to classical liturgies - and an upcoming AMiA conference will feature a Southern Baptist expert on leadership development.)

So, while the AMiA, CANA and KACA are "doing a new thing", their new things look and sound much more like global south Anglicanism than do those NA groups (such as the REC)which are seeking a continuation of our English Reformation roots.

Was Professor Guelzo correct when he wrote (paraphrasing), "perhaps the greatest irony of the REC is that, now when she desires to return to her Anglican roots, there may be no Anglicanism left to go home to."

Within the official Communion, perhaps a diocese on each continent, perhaps a bishop or priest here or there swim against the tide. But the vast majority of Anglicanism has moved on.

In light of this global situation, is it any wonder that these newer groups have not joined with those of us who are seeking the "ancient paths"? Is it any wonder that global south leaders view us "Classical Anglicans" as something akin to "Old Calendar Catholics"?

Anonymous said...

Anglican Clerk,

One minor quibble. I would say that the UEC, given its originator, was more of an Old-High Church jurisdiction. Indeed, I don't think Dale would have signed onto the St. Louis Statement were he really "low church."

Though Prayer-Book in worship, and therefore easily seen confused with Prayer-Book Evangelicals (which the REC has historically been) and accepting of the 39 Articles, the UEC also, atleast until very recently publicly reject any Calvinistic construction thereof, though admitting some good points about Calvin and Luther. To me, this sounds like the High-Churchman of Yore who were Protestant and Catholic; small-r reformed but not capital-R Reformed.

But, as you note, the point is moot now.


Anonymous said...

Death Bredon is quite right about Bishop Doren. He was an old fashioned high church Anglican and not the low churchman he was made out to be. The problem with the ACC was that while the people were quite Catholic in the Anglican sense, the earliest bishops were all pseuco=papists with each believing himself to be the new Anglican pope.

The problem with traditional Anglicanism is that it is infested with men who know how to take a promise while holding their fingers crossed behind their backs. They refuse to read and acknowledge what the traditional Anglican documents require because they are determined to create their own religion just as soon as they have a parish. It really is a shame, but until we teach our children to read and understand what is on the page, it will probably continue.

Anonymous said...

What counsel would you give a young (30-something) evangelical pastor who is drawn to Anglicanism, cannot in good conscience submit to ECUSA, yet is afraid of joining yet another Protestant "splinter" group?

Anonymous said...


BIG ego issues.


Rev. Dr. Hassert said...

I considered deleting the anonymous post crying out "Don't go into the REC!"

However, I'll let it stand and say that it is nonsense. I've been in three other Anglican groups and the Reformed Episcopal Church is by far the healthiest I've come across. I would say it is the most balanced of the traditional churches. It is no longer "low church," but by no means Anglo-Catholic (although there are Anglo-Catholics in the REC, and I consider myself among them). It is the largest group (not saying much, since most of the Anglican groups outside of ECUSA are so small) most devoted to the Anglicanism of the Book of Common Prayer. If you are an evangelical drawn to Anglicanism, I'd say read Jewel's "Apology for the Church of England" and Cranmer's text on the Eucharist, as well as Book Five of Hooker's Polity, the Articles and the Prayer Book. If you find yourself in agreement with the logic and sentiments of those works, you'll be at home with the traditional Anglicanism of the REC.


Rev. Dr. Hassert said...

P.S. I think that the first comment in this listing is largely correct. Those who are now leaving the Anglican Communion or view themselves as the new Anglican Communion (the global south, those now departing ECUSA) look at those that stick to the 1662 and 1928 BCPs and the old theology of the 17th-19th centuries as not a wee bit odd. Of course, if you ask thse folks anything about the history of Anglicanism they may be at a loss. Again, going back to my main point--those leaving now have had almost little or no contact with what was called Anglicanism for several centuries. The Anglicanism they know are (often) based on whatever they grew up with--the new Prayer Book, the new Catechism, and the new teachings from the official publishing houses of ECUSA of the CofE. So we are to a large degree viewed as the Old Calendar Orthodox or the Latin Rite Romans. However, that doesn't mean that what we are trying to preserve isn't Anglicanism--based on the evidence of history, it is.


Anonymous said...

as a former REC, I would say there are no more "Ego's" in the REC that you would not find anyplace else. Sin is always the culpret.
I will say that I saw allot of growth from low Church to High Church in my time their but....there is still more growth that needs to happen. There are still may Presbyterian thinking Anglicans within the fold but, I am sure they will eventually outgrow that.

Mike Spreng said...

I am a pastoral convert to Anglicanism, from the Presby world to the REC and I am finding them to be very humble.