Of course in the UK, the CofE is the State religion. It has "a presence in every community" and, according to the official website:
"In urban areas, the Church of England exists alongside an increasing number and diversity of other Churches. In rural contexts, people from a diversity of Christian traditions may relate to our parish churches. In many communities, urban and rural, we work extensively with some longstanding partner Churches, and, increasingly, with a range of new partners as well."
Bishop Trevor Willmott of Dover says in his latest letter to his See: "As the Primatial See and Metropolitical See, Canterbury Diocese is often called to be generous to members of the Anglican family, a role, that I thank God, we accept graciously."
Of course, the problem is that the Anglican Catholic Church in this country is tiny, and further, many would doubt that we are Anglican in the first place. We are often accused of being isolationist given our policy on Church Unity, but I do wonder how many people have read it, and read it carefully.
First to the charge of being isolationist, let us consider what the problem really is. It has to be said that we are seen as a "breakaway" church. That term "breakaway" needs to be clarified. Essentially, we are seen to be unwilling to engage with other Christians and to come together to meet with them in projects such as "Churches Together". To many in the CofE, we are disloyal and unjustly using the word "Anglican" to set ourselves up in opposition to their work. They object to our being an alternative to the Church of England.
Yet, there are lots of alternatives to the Church of England. The Methodist Church was itself a "breakaway" church even though it did not see itself like that. With their high view of spirituality, the Methodists have always had much to offer in a manner that differs from the Established Church. The Tractarians have traditionally had much in common with the Methodists. However, they understand sacraments differently and do not see the need for bishops. Perhaps it takes two centuries for a Church body to be recognized warmly. Surely that's not what's meant by a "longstanding partner," is it?
Are we disloyal? In the Anglican Catholic Church we are loyal to God first; the Church of England would say the same. We say that we are loyal to the tradition of Christian Worship in this country; the CofE would say the same. We say that we are loyal to the people of this country and care for their spiritual development according to the Christian Faith; the CofE would say the same. We say that we are loyal to the expression of Christian Faith which has grown and evolved in this country for more than one-and-a-half millennia; the CofE would say the same.
So why are we different? Do we disagree on the word "loyal"? Or have we missed a factor out? Is it because we are not loyal to the Book of Common Prayer, or to the Anglican formularies, or to the Archbishop of Canterbury?
Again, we have to understand things carefully here as this ties in with the Anglican Catholic understanding of what Anglican means. Clearly that is a disputed topic, but let us see whether there is some commonality.
Again, I reiterate my disclaimer that I do NOT speak with any authority on behalf of the Anglican Catholic Church. It is my reading of the Anglican Catholic Canons and Constitution that our understanding of Anglicanism is the Orthodox Christianity that has existed ab initio in the British Isles and has its expression through the lens of the 1549 Book of Common Prayer and concomitant ritual. This means that we read the Book of Common Prayer in the light of the first ten centuries and first seven Oecumenical Councils. We look neither to Rome to define doctrine nor to Canterbury but rather we continue he faith that the See of Canterbury once held before re-defining doctrine. It means that we do not accept the XXXIX articles as being an expression of dogma nor of requiring affirmation. There is much within them that is true, or may be interpreted faithfully in an Orthodox manner, but they do not define what is orthodox, nor are they a requirement for confession of faith. We have impeccable Anglican Orders and celebrate in Cranmerian English as standard. For us, this is sufficient for us to identify ourselves as Anglican.
Of course, many will disagree with that. They are free to do so, but they must understand that we do hold our understanding of Anglicanism very dearly and just as passionately, so we will not reconsider our position without sufficient reason. Those who try to demonstrate the necessity of the Articles to define Anglicanism simply have so far failed to provide that sufficient reason.
Of course, many in the Established Church will say that we are not continuing to be Anglican because we have broken Communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury, and they will cite this as our disloyalty.
Our point is simple: we can only be in communion if we agree on what Communion actually is. The Anglican Catholic Church holds to the doctrine of the Real Presence, essentially a non-Roman version of "transubstantiation," i.e. not necessarily viewed from a Thomist or Aristotelian definition. We say that before Mass there is wafer and wine and, when we make our Communion, we receive the actual and physically real Body and Blood of Christ which we recognize and treat accordingly with profoundest reverence. Whatever the transformation is, it is certainly substantial, but how this works is not for men to know. We trust God because God is faithful to the New Covenant of which Holy Communion is an expression.
As I said, our loyalty is to God first before all things, even the Bible. We learn about God through His revelation, but our loyalty is first to Him before all things. As we understand the Covenant, we seek Communion with God within that covenant. Thus we cannot be in communion with those who change the circumstances of that covenant, or who at least add a significant element of doubt into the circumstances of that covenant. This lack of communion is not due to a lack of love on our part, though I am sure that we freely admit that there are times when we are not as loving as we should be. That surely is a common human failing. However, it is not a lack of love to recognize that there are two different ideas of Communion here and, for the love of God, we continue that definition that the Church of England espoused in her history and not the definition that she now holds.
We accept that people are free to make their own decisions and thus are free to believe that the Church of England has the authority to change doctrine, but they must accept that we cannot accept those changes. Again, this is not out of hatred, it is out of faith. While we once accepted the authority of the Archbishop of Canterbury in all things lawful and honest, we no longer do so, because we have grounds to believe that he (and now, potentially, she) authorizes that which is against the teaching of the Undivided Church. By "law", the CofE means that which she can pass in the legislature of the country. By "law", we understand the sacramental law of the Undivided Church which may not be altered without the authority of an Oecumenical Council.
Thus, if the CofE believes that we are disloyal, then they must understand that we are simply loyal to that which they once held but have now rejected. They've rejected things before in the Reformation and now have good relationships with the Roman Catholic Church. Thus, one would hope, in this enlightened time, that the CofE would be amenable to the Continuing Anglican jurisdictions in a similar vein following the resolutions of the Lambeth Conference.
We're accused of being isolationist. Perhaps that means that we believe that we're better than anyone else, or that we just don't want to know anyone else.
The point of fact is that each group of Christians believes that they've got it right. We believe that we are part of the Catholic and Orthodox Church. We certainly don't believe that we are the One True Church, but we do believe that we are Catholic and Orthodox, which means that we do indeed believe that people who depart from the Orthodox and Catholic Faith are wrong. The Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church believe that we're wrong. The CofE believes that we're wrong. But so what? Humanity is flawed and God is immense. Nonetheless, we believe that we have good grounds to state that we are on the right path at least as much as the other Catholic and Orthodox Churches. If we're wrong then we will be put right by Him no differently from anyone else. The Anglican Catholic Church is no less fallible than any other Church, but we're no more fallible either. We've never claimed anything else. We seek perfection in Christ and in Christ, we will be perfected along with so many others. We don't expect that these "others" are only going to be Anglican Catholic (quite the reverse, given how tiny we are) but we share everyone's hope that we won't be left out.
Actually, we do want to know other people, but we have been burned. Archbishop Coggan has demonstrated that he did not want to have anything to do with the Continuing Anglican Churches and that the CofE would not recognize them. If that's true, then it's not actually the ACC being isolationist. No, we do not need any validation from the CofE to somehow justify our existence. We exist and are clear in our purpose and ideals, but this does not mean to say that we wish to distance ourselves from the CofE. Members of the CofE are the ones who accuse us of things such as misogyny or disloyalty or hatred. They are the ones who make the accusations, often personal. They come up to us with anger in their eyes, despite the fact that they are meant to respect "different integrities" within their own communion. If they can't recognize our own "integrity" that differs from their own just because we aren't part of the communion, then clearly it is only the fact of being in the Communion that determines our "unsuitability". Would they accuse members of FiF of being misogynist? According to the Code of Practice they could not. With us, are they simply sticking to the letter of the law rather than the spirit of that Code?
What about joining in with worship? Again, we fall into the problem of our Tradition. Worship is not something that we do just to be together. It must be a gathering in order to focus on God and we are firm believers in lex orandi, lex credendi. The way we approach God is deeply rooted in our liturgy. We do not embrace "contemporary" worship if it changes the way we approach God. The trouble here is that contemporary worship often expresses the very changes in ideas and teaching which the ACC has sought to avoid. It is possible that you might hear music in one of our Masses which was written less than fifty years ago. If you do hear it then it will be because it fits with the body of liturgy with which we worship God. However, much modern church worship material is full of sentimentality and false doctrine which supports that sentimentality. We don't worship to feel good. We worship the God whom Christians have always worshipped.
If it is isolationist not to attend acts of corporate worship, then we probably stand justly accused. However, given that so many Christians believe so many different things, how is an act of corporate worship going to suit them all, even to do justice to the different expressions? Is it even possible beyond the superficial? The point I'm making is that we recognize that there is distance between us and other Christians and we respect that distance. This doesn't stop us from engaging with others outside of our services. Indeed, we try to worship God in all things that we do, and do enjoy talking with people of all sorts since we desire to see Christ in every human being. While, like everyone else, we fail to keep the Lord's two commandments of love, our intention should be to keep them dutifully. However, people must realize that the love that God bids us show Him and others is not a love that will permit everything and anything.
We are bound by that love. It may well be that, in the discussions which come with that love, our understanding of our canons will become better focused and nuanced. Given their antiquity, we still need to ensure that discussions continue even if we are not in communion with those with whom we speak. If the CofE reject us out of hand, that is their problem, but not our wish. Like Bishop Willmott of Dover, we seek to be generous to our Christian family - not with the spirit of condescension but with the desire to talk and serve the common good. We do present ourselves as an alternative to the Church of England because we want to allow people to have the choice between expressions and integrities of Anglicanism. We do hold out the hand of friendship, but will it be grasped?