“Yea, I am persuaded, that of them with whom in this cause we strive, there are whose betters amongst men would be hardly found, if they did not live amongst men, but in some wilderness by themselves. The cause of which their disposition so unframable unto societies wherein they live, is, for that they discern not aright what place and force these several kinds of laws ought to have in all their actions. Is there questions either concerning the regiment of the Church in general, or about conformity between one church and another, or of ceremonies, offices, powers, jurisdictions in our own church? Of all these things they judge by that rule which they frame to themselves with some show of probability, and what seemeth in that sort convenient, the same they think themselves bound to practice; the same by all means they labour mightily to uphold; whatsoever any law of man to the contrary hath determined they weigh it not. Thus by following the law of private reason, where the law of public should take place, they breed disturbance.” Richard Hooker, Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity – I.xvi.6
The ideas were liberating: “We don’t have a Luther or a Calvin, just a Prayer Book;” “It’s not so important that in all things we agree but that we worship together;” “Anglicanism is a Via Media between (insert whatever two things you want);” “You don’t have to leave your brain behind (or another wonderfully condescending phrase);” etc… These are the things that you hear as you begin to approach the Anglican churches. And to a disillusioned Pentecostal who doesn’t know what he believes, they are glorious things to hear.
Unfortunately they are all false. Or at least in most ways confused, or interpreted diversely, or forgotten. In many ways the petty arguments about “Initial Physical Evidence” or really bad eschatology between a tiny minority of youth and their elders in the Assemblies of God pales in comparison to the sheer scope of disagreements currently going on within Anglicanism. And don’t think for a second that the homosexual thing is the only thing. There is a perennial struggle for the soul of the church. Is it Catholic? Is it “biblical?” Is it Evangelical? Is baptism optional? Should laypeople administer the Sacraments? Given the homosexual struggle, was it an error to have allowed Women clergy? Are the large numbers of Christians in the Global South proof of mass Western apostacy?
Whereas these are legitimate questions to ask, we have found that there are no structures available in our various means of Communion to curb the increasingly fierce independence desirous of being expressed in our diverse bodies.
We are a hairs breadth from every Province becoming an island of theological conscience to themselves.
This for me is most terrifying possibility. “Catholicism” is not a matter of mere piety, as if praying with Icons or singing the Magnificat makes one a catholic. Even having monEpiscopacy is not enough to qualify a church for being “Catholic.” “Catholic” is a matter of the structure and vision of a Church. I began attending an Episcopal parish largely on account of C.S. Lewis and N.T. Wright, but I stayed because of Michael Ramsey, Rowan Williams, Richard Hooker, George Herbert, Radical Orthodoxy and the Oxford Movement. I could compose my own Prayer Book, I could plant a church that sung the Divine Liturgy, but I could not make from scratch a Catholic church structure and history. If Anglicanism splits into a looser federation, I’m not really sure where I’d be, but I’d be a wreck.
At every turn I’ve been confronted by contradictions. Many liberals aren’t really inclusive but of their own kind; many evangelicals are deeply unaware of their Anglican history and doctrine; there isn’t much of a Via Media but an intolerable and systematic diversity from low church Reformed Protestants to Anglo-Papists; few know or care why we have Bishops and a Prayer Book instead of a Presbytery and Confessional, unless of course not having a confessional becomes permission for doctrinal indifference or iconoclasm; many conservatives are completely unaware that their highly determined systematic theology influences their “biblical” readings and quite a few liberals don’t yet realize that the academy doesn’t give a rats ass about Tillich anymore.
Not that I’ve not found glimmers of hope. I’ve found a great many reflective priests and there are a number of stupendous Bishops (mostly in the Church of England) and Anglican academic theology is currently without peer in most of the world.
But may I say, in keeping with an open and honest tone, that I’m truly terrified. I know it would be more pious and faithful of me to say that I’m hopeful but I’m not really not. I feel as if I walked into the middle of a Family Feud that I’m not much interested in taking to the grave, and while I hold on in trust, I’m still at a point where I’m apprehensive as to how it will turn out. I say this because I don’t feel as if enough people are saying it even though it’s not very constructive. Of those whom I respect many must put on a good face while many for whom I have less respect are declaring the triumph of their “side.” “Winning,” is not something at this point that can happen and constancy is for those stronger than I.
Lord have Mercy.