Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Are Anglican Catholics really Anglican?

Edit 13th October 2014: It has come to my attention that there are blogs out there who seem to be reading into this post more than is intended. They state that I imply what they actually infer. They seem to think that I am in some way representative of my Province, despite my disclaimer categorically stating that I am not. They state that I am making statements about the Protestant nature of Anglicanism when the "heresies" I refer to I have deliberately left for the reader to understand. If people wish to read into my posts that which isn't there, then that is their business and I am not going to enter into any debate about it, especially if they are going to be rude, triumphalist and deliberately polemical.

I’ve just been reading this which asks the question about whether the GAFCON churches, the ACNA, and the AMiA are really Anglican. It shows that the Archbishop of Canterbury seems to think that a defining attribute of Anglicanism must reside in being in communion with his office. Of course, the ACNA would disagree with this, as would the continuing Anglican churches. It all sounds just a little bit Papal, doesn’t it? One can only be a Roman Catholic if one is in Communion with the Holy Father. Can one’s identity as a Christian be truly bound up in deference to one man? It has to! It must! That man being Our Lord Jesus Christ – none other! After all. St Paul says:

“And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able. For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men? For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal? Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man? I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase.” (I Cor iii.1-7)

Questions of our identity are ultimately useless if we treasure our adjectives more than our nouns. My friend Ed Pacht always says that he is a Christian first, a Catholic second and an Anglican third. Of course, one could debate whether one can be a Christian without being a Catholic, but such debates, while seeking clarity and confidence, end up separating people, most often unnecessarily.

What, then, do our adjectives do? We’re taught at school that “nouns are ‘naming’ words”, “verbs are ‘doing’ words” and “adjectives are ‘describing’ words” Adjectives modify our language and are largely based on the colour that our experience discriminates the genus from the species. A skilled translator knows that not only does one have to translate the noun correctly, but also the adjective. Consider the French for “lost property” – “l’objets trouvĂ©s”. One is probably justified in translating “objets” as “property”, though to go from a simple item to a piece of property demonstrates perhaps the human propensity to attribute ownership to things. What one loses, another finds – it’s the same idea but seen from different angles.

What does the adjective “Catholic” do to the noun “Christian”? Well, this is the tricky one because of the shifting nature of language. If one truly follows Christ, then one has to regard His doctrine and His establishment as having the supreme importance and one’s personal view of Christianity must surely be bound up therein. This doctrine cannot change in the light of time or space neither can the sacraments as vehicles of Grace change because every person, past, present and future is of equal worth in the eyes of God – all need His grace, all need His Word. This is the original sense of Catholic; it is inextricably bound up with the visibility of the Church. To be a Catholic means to be seen to be part of the Church as it was, is and will be.

It is fitting, then, that we should always look to the original meanings of words if we are meant to be sharing those words with those who have come before us in order to have communion with those who come after us. Catholic should not them mean “Roman Catholic”, after all, the Orthodox are just as Catholic, but without the Holy Father as a monarch. That is also how we Anglican Catholics see ourselves.

The original meaning of Anglican was simply as an adjective notably used in the 13th century to mean “English” Of course, many Anglicans now disagree with that definition because it has come to acquire Reformation connotations. That is why Anglicanism is often seen to be defined by adherence to the 39 articles or to Protestant confessional formularies.

If that is what Anglicanism has come to mean, then the Anglican Catholic Church is not really Anglican.

Even then, I suspect there are many in the ACC who would disagree with me, such as the reverend Father Robert Hart. The way I see the Anglican Catholic Church is not a concerted attempt to forget the Reformation but to look further back beyond it, rather than as a defining mark of Anglicanism. Others find this a betrayal of the Reformation. Given that there are a lot of Protestant heresies that came out of that turbulent time, the ACC is rather justified in trying to continue Anglicanism across that era as well as the 20th Century. If a rejection of Protestant doctrine means that an Anglican Catholic is not Anglican then the answer should be that they never were Anglican, but rather that they have always been Anglican Catholic.

I would not describe the Anglican Catholic Church as being Anglican. I would describe it as being Anglican Catholic. I do not see the two adjectives which describe my Christianity as being separable, but unified in their intention. True Catholicism is rooted in the visibility of the Church as the distributor of God’s grace and proclaimer of His word. We Anglican Catholics strive to be visible in our Catholicism and do so in a characteristically English way. This does not mean dressing up in fancy robes, though our vestments are part of our expression. Our true visibility MUST be bound up with how we live our lives with other people.

Each Anglican Catholic faces the challenge of proclaiming the Gospel by living it. This means performing the corporal and spiritual works of mercy that have always been practised by the Church albeit with that English flavour. This is why accusations of not being Anglican don’t actually bother me so much these days. I am not Anglican if it means being in communion with Archbishop Welby and his succession. That communion is not Catholic and I am, so I can’t be in communion with them: we used to understand things the same way, but that understanding is different now. Anglican Catholics understand the original meanings; the Anglican Communion has changed those meanings.

Not being Catholic compromises one’s visibility as a Christian, but then the actions of the Westborough Baptist Church compromises their visibility more. Our Lord says, “by their fruits shall ye know them.” If one’s actions are driving people from the Church, then the fruit of one’s labours is nearer to the wild grape than the cultivated grape. It is by our actions that the world outside the Church interacts with us. Our actions as Christians manifest our identity to an unbelieving world. This is why Christopher Hitchens’ book “God is not Great” really does hit home. People’s view of God is coloured by how we are seen to worship Him.

To live a Christian life is more Catholic than proclaiming that one is Catholic. We can attempt to proclaim with banners and Facebook pages and blogs (mea culpa) that one is Catholic, but these are just so secondary to the task. Self-publicity is far from being the Church’s first priority. The light that we should shine before all men is the light that comes from Christ. It is the light of Tabor, the tongues of fire that God places upon the head of the Confirmed that is meant to shine in our lives. If we want people to see the Church, then they need to see that light – not the light of gaudy advertising! Our actions should speak for themselves and then only speak the Word of God. Only then will we have Christianity in our substance rather than in our appearance.

Are Anglican Catholics actually Anglican? Not in my understanding of a post-Reformation definition. It is of no consequence: we should make sure we are Christians first!

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