Even More ’09 Reflections, or “Futures in Anglicanism,” or “For the Love of God Please Stop”

Tony Sig

In a previous post I reflected on a chaotic year for Anglicans.  The post itself remained largely ambiguous as to whether I saw much hope for the coming year and several commenters wondered aloud what might set us back on track.

Far be it from me to miss an opportunity to wax eloquent on my own opinions.  In this post I shall briefly, unsystematically and without much justification toss out some things I’ve been thinking about that, it seems to me, could contribute to a discussion on being faithful to our Tradition.  There is absolutely no reason that anyone should take the meanderings of a kid too seriously so take it all with a grain of salt.

Of course there are reasons I think these things, but with homework being of much greater importance than blogging I will largely keep from  any thorough justifications for my two cents.

  • 1)For the love of God everybody stop, stop, stop with revisions of all kinds.  A total moratorium on all Prayer Book, theologically informed Canon Law, Liturgical and theological revision for at least a decade.  Our English is not nearly old enough to need updating, our laws left unchanged will not hand us over to chaos, our prayer and collects are and have been largely consistent with Catholic Christian practice and thought and our theology is not yet proved false.  This will provide the common bonds of public trust so as to continue to enable the recognizability within our fellowship.  Any priest altering a liturgy independently should be swiftly disciplined and any bishop or province should be pleaded with to just chill out:  This means you Church of England with your lady bishops (and I’m all about lady bishops), you Nigeria with your canonical marginalizing of the Archbishop of Canterbury, you Episcopal Church with your endorsing diocene composition and implementation of rites of same sex blessing and consideration of Communing the unbaptized, and you Australia with your insufficient theology of Priesthood and Eucharist.
  • 2)  With that in mind, for now focus on those things central to our life and mission as Churches.  Worship, Evangelism, Justice and Catechesis seem to be atop this list to me.

It seems that these two things will build the trust and love necessary to begin to hash out the future of Anglican practice which will largely be in reference to, either for or against, the Anglican Covenant.  It’s here and it’s not going away.  The one, a choice rooted in the Protestant conviction that one is at liberty to interpret the Scriptures on their own, the other a choice for that Episcopal concilarity of the first four universally regarded Ecumenical councils.

But the “Covenant” is not nearly enough.  As the massive and desperately needed book “Love’s Redeeming Work: The Anglican Quest for Holiness” states, there has been at least since the Second World War, a general inability to understand our Anglican identity.  To that end I propose a few things…

  • Episcopacy is absolutely central to Anglican theology and life.  It must be insisted upon and emphasized that in continuity with the very early Church through the ages, we have vigorously maintained that Apostolic Succession by the reality that we have never christened a bishop without the laying on of hands of at least three other bishops so consecrated.  Our Liturgies for consecration have never deviated from this.  We are not Baptists with prayer books, indifferent to the right ordering of our life, neither do we think Church tradition so trite as to be of no authoritative worth.  Our Articles also bear this out as we understand nothing in our liturgies to be contrary to Holy Scripture.
  • Related to the above…What the hell ever happened to Common Prayer?  I propose the possibility of a Book of Common Prayer for use in all Covenanted churches.  Or, at the very least, in terms of the liturgist exraordinaire’ Dom Gregory Dix, the “Shape” of our liturgy should agreed upon, especially our Eucharistic liturgy and the liturgies for Episcopal functions like ordination, baptism and confirmation.  Parishes should not be allowed to use the Roman Mass nor neglect the Hymnal in favor of modern chorus’, or ignore the Rubrics.
  • Similarly we need a Catechism.  Which, though not to be used as a “Confession” in the sense that it’s contents are necessarily to be comprehended or assented to in entirety for Salvation, should be widely used and authoritative.
  • Communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury is fundamental to being Anglican and is one of the only “checks” against loose consularity and is essential to ecumenical dialogue with the Roman and Orthodox Catholic churches.
  • Jesus loves Fender guitars
  • There being a large number of Christians in the so-called “Global South” does not meant that a) those Anglicans can disregard their history b) that they cannot nor need not listen to the insights of more historic fellowships, especially the Church of England c) that they have become our rightful judges
  • The idea of in-house “parties” like “Anglo-catholic,” “Broad Church” and “Evangelical” needs to become progressively left behind in favor of  solidarity.  Evangelicals will have been unfaithful Anglicans to the extent that they do not include the whole Christian tradition in their theology, piety and Scripture reading; Anglo-catholics will have been unfaithful to the Reformation in England if they not recognize the centrality of Scripture over all else; and Broad churches will likewise fall short if they don’t realize that there is nothing virtuous about being bland.
  • All of this points to the need of a more unified practice of piety.
  • If you don’t like it, become a Baptist. ***update*** (One misses the point if they think I’m using “Baptist” pejoratively.  I mean only that being Anglican is not simply uniquely British way of being a Congregationalist.)
  • Authority is not a four letter word.
  • I am most certainly full of myself.

Responses…?  Additions…?  Complaints…?  I want ’em all.



  1. our theology is not yet proved false.

    Could any Christian sect say that, or only yours. If any could say it, it is meaningless. If only yours, it is an empirical claim that needs evidence — except among flag waving Episcopalians. People are trying to change it because they disagree with you. So how do you settle that. Just saying so, doesn’t work. But damn, at least you came out and said it. You are not afraid to show your strong side !

    I love how you used “Baptist” like it was a four letter word — unlike “authority”.

    What the hell ever happened to Common Prayer?

    Here again with see the righteous anger of Jesus in the temple — a favorite place for Tony to live. A calling , perhaps.

    I am most certainly full of myself

    Was this all tongue in cheek, then? Well, accept about the Fender guitars, I knew you were serious about that.


  2. hmm. I agree with most of this.

    a couple things:

    1. I think I know the spirit in which number 1 was written, and I agree that certain types of revisions should cease; However, I don’t think moratoria is necessarily the way to go. How can the Church practice justice if the current canon laws/ liturgical rites are unjust to women priests/bishops or gays and lesbians. I don’t think these should be revised lightly, but I think that as a province we should have the power to adapt according to the pastoral needs of our congregations. Now, I will admit that often this has been done far too hastily and without a fully developed or sophisticated theological backing.

    You may be on the right track with the catechism, although it becomes problematic. There is a already a catechism in the prayer book. Do you mean a uniform catechism for the Anglican Communion? I think that’s sort of what the 39 articles had tried to be (and we see what a mess those are).

    So I think perhaps not a catechism per se, but definitely catechesis. I think if we explained to everybody: “Look, we’re Orthodox and Catholic, which means you can’t mess with our Eucharist, we believe in the real presence and you need to at least pretend like you believe the Nicene Creed, however we’re also Anglican, so we don’t all have to explain or believe everything in exactly the same way, so stop leaving and taking our churches, just because you can’t stand to worship with someone with a different opinion.”

    or something like that.

    Also, I like this statement: “The idea of in-house “parties” like “Anglo-catholic,” “Broad Church” and “Evangelical” needs to become progressively left behind in favor of solidarity.”

    I myself tend to agree most with those of a (liberal) Anglo-catholic bias, however, there is a place for everyone in the church.

    Anyway, I guess a main question is, How do you define a universal Anglican Identity with out losing the multivalency of belief and practice that has made the Anglican church so great. How do we define a universal Identity, without becoming the Roman Catholic church?


    1. Matthew,

      Thanks for the pushback!

      Re: 1 – Without really wanting to get into a discussion about women clergy and homosexuality I’ll say this: I think that both, in their own different ways, can fall into justifiable theological horizons and so “action” on them is not something that I’m interested in closing off discussions on; but I am absolutely convinced that if these sort of radical (at least radical in regards to historic practice ) choices continue to move along full speed ahead the kind of unity the Anglican churches have long enjoyed based on tacit understandings of unity will not continue much longer. Not only that but our longstanding interactions with other Catholic churches will be deeply disturbed.

      On a Catechism I’d argue that the one in the BCP is supremely minimalistic to the point of being sort of a mild joke. If we can’t agree and teach on more than that Catechism, well then our theological integrity is stretched pretty thin. I’m not interested in making it equivalent to a “Confession” of the old Protestant kind, but something not too unlike the RC and Russian Orthodox Catechism would be appreciated by many for whom their only real choices are the BCP ‘catechism,’ Alpha and Hans Kung’s “On Being a Christian.” No insult to the good Fr. Kung intended.

      On Anglican Identity, or Identities, I mean mostly that the idea that the foundational signifier of Anglican identity is tolerance of many (all?) views is a) historically wrong b) selling our historical divines short.

      And so, relating all this to your final question, that which holds together these disparate points of mine is a conviction that Anglicanism has been stretched as far if not farther than it can go in retaining plurality. I don’t want to “buckle down” so much as fill in what seems to me to be widening gap between groups within the fellowship and provide the means of continued recognition of ministry and witness.


  3. Matthew,

    Thanks for your response and generous interpretation. I’m swamped with schoolwork so I might not get a chance to respond for a day or two, but I will.


  4. If you get time, I’d like to see you expound/defend/show your sources on this statement:

    “On Anglican Identity, or Identities, I mean mostly that the idea that the foundational signifier of Anglican identity is tolerance of many (all?) views is a) historically wrong b) selling our historical divines short.”


    1. Matthew,

      To clarify, by this I do not mean that there has not been toleration of various viewpoints, theological and otherwise throughout the history of the Anglican church (though this, being true of most churches seems to be a telltale sign that it is not original or ‘foundational’ to Anglicanism). I mean this in reference to tolerance qua tolerance. This is specifically “the myth” that I take issue with.

      A few points to illustrate:

      1) The Church in England saw itself as the Church in England and persecuted all dissenters.
      1a) It took nearly 200 years until there was even an act of Toleration, and then it still excluded Roman Catholics unless I’m mistaken

      2) There was no deviation from the Articles of Religion tolerated for quite some time. Indeed, technically you couldn’t even attend Cambridge or Oxford until the early 20th c. without assenting to the Articles.

      3) Hooker, who is often used in favor of such an understanding, did indeed have a wide view of the Church, but this is connected to his views on Justification and the tendency of man to be deceived in things like Reason and Scripture. Again, it’s the Toleration qua Toleration I disagree with. Hooker was quite harsh on the Puritans who wanted to change the doctrines and practices of the Church in England. This to me shows another thing Hooker believed, namely that The Church of England had recognizable doctrines.

      4) It was not until after even the Non-Jurors that we see groups in the Church advocating toleration. These were often reactions against interdenominational violence and hopes for stability in the State and not really much connected to what we might call “theological reasons.” It is against these that the Tractarians reacted. Indeed, the fact that it had to be argued for seems to illustrate my point.


  5. For the record, I’m not trying to get out my sharp dogmatic scissors and exercise all those who don’t share the same Christian convictions that I do. And I’m not saying you are implying this. I’m trying to constructive I promise!


  6. yeah, something constructive is what we need.

    And I think all sides would be more willing to listen if it was done in a constructive way rather than a dogmatic “i’m right, so i’m leaving and taking your church” way.

    but what drew me to the episcopal church/anglican communion was the idea that one could be catholic and orthodox. catholic and reformed. That those who were catholic could worship with those who were more protestant, that conservatives could hang out with liberals and do the work of god. And at the local level I think this does happen.


  7. “And at the local level I think this does happen.”

    You’re right Matthew. I’m into radical orthodoxy, and my parish is Los Angeles. But at the parish level we simply love each other and do our best to worship and serve Christ.

    Let’s hope that can prevail at large.


  8. Agreed. It certainly happens for the most part on a local level. And acceptance of a wide church has come to be something that Anglicans take to be a wonderful part of our heritage.


  9. Yeah, I mean I think we all feel the stress of the bombastic nature of the dialog and the sensationalistic media attention that it gets. But I hope and pray that what is true on the local level will overcome that which is ostensibly true, on a national, global scale.

    A friend of mine interned at an Episcopal church in Atlanta, whose main ministry was to persons with mental illness, (70% of their congregation were persons with mental illness). At a vestry meeting one night, one of the vestry members said, “Father Ralph, If we get kicked out of the Anglican Communion, will you email us?” These people were so busy doing the work of the gospel in that area that they didn’t have time to worry about the relatively petty squabbles of the larger Church.

    I think that is why a prayer book unity is a good place to start. The prayer book is our catechism. (Not the tiny catechism in the back), but all the prayers and the creeds. What do we believe about Christology, Pneumatology, Ecclesiology, Liturgics, The Eucharist, Social Justice?

    It’s in the Prayer book.

    And of course, that’s not where the catechesis stops, it must be expounded on by reference to catholic tradition, but I think if we took the Prayer book more seriously, we’d be in a better state as a Church.


  10. As a Catholic, I’d like to ask how does the pastors gender play a role during the liturgy?

    I guess I’m asking does the pastor signify the role Christ in the liturgy or is it considered a moot point?


    1. Quickbeam,

      That is a very good question. And one that is certainly difficult to ask a definitive answer for in a fellowship of Churches who vary in practice regarding the ordination of women. Most answers in the West have focused around themes of “liberation and oppression,” in no small part because of your own theologians! Though I understand this method of reasoning I don’t think that it gets at the core issue that presents itself to a Catholic like yourself.

      On the one hand, the practice within Anglicanism is allowed on the authority of Bishops to “Bind and Loose.” Through the meetings of all the Communion’s bishops at the Lambeth Conference (I forget the year), it was decided that the practice was one that there could be diversity of opinion on without broken fellowship.

      But theological reflection on this has taken a far more serious turn, especially with those who study the Capocian Fathers, not least St. Gregory of Nyssa. I don’t know the arguments quite well enough to really give a satisfactory and nuanced argument but a very basic idea is that if the Incarnation was necessary for salvation, and if Christ’s Incarnation was such that it will save bodies and unite them to God’s own nature, then in order for Salvation to extend to humanity both male and female, Christ’s gendered body must have been such that it had the ability to “be both” male and female (a crude reduction). A logical extension of St. Ireneaus’ of Lyon’s saying “That which Christ did not assume, he did not save.”

      So if the Priest, in offering up Christ’s multi-gendered body The Church in the Eucharist “stands in” or “shares” in the priesthood of Christ, then not to have female priests is to in a round’ about way, to deny the saving effect of Christ’s atonement.

      There are also supplementary arguments that examine how God is a) beyond signification univocally, and b) is both male and female (which even St. Augustine says) but I know a bit less about them.

      Now this would not necessarily be the way that all Anglicans would “justify” the practice, but they are ones that I think would make the most sense to a Roman Catholic. Being raised Pentecostal, we understood it to be a movement of the Holy Spirit and so I was quite used to it way before I was confirmed Anglican. (and the Pentecostals were practicing women’s ordination well before the “enlightened” Mainline. They often forget that in self-righteousness)

      As a final note, this issue in particular will occupy much of the third “official” Ecumenical encounters between Anglicans and the Eastern Orthodox churches. I imagine that if it is half as good as the last one on the Church, it will be a cause of deep reflection.


  11. Tony, good explanation.

    Quickbeam – To add to Tony’s adumbration of the theology behind women priests, Sarah Coakley, a brilliant theologian and a priest in the Anglican Church put it this way, “One of the fascinating things about being in some sense in persona Christi at the altar is that one finds oneself at some points in the service…kneeling on behalf of the laity — and thus qua feminine in terms of the traditional nuptial heart of the eucharist, but then when one turns to bless or to absolve or to offer the elements to the people, one’s crossing the liminal boundary to the divine side of things: now one is standing in the realm of Christ as the divine lover, qua ‘masculine’. One is symbolically moving from one theological gender pole to the other, and so ‘destabilising’ these poles at the same time.”


  12. Matt,

    Thanks for the explanation, but I guess don’t think I grasp it. It’s much easier for me to understand that God is male – Father, Son and Holy Spirit(as spouse of the BVM). In that sense God exhibits “maleness” in the Trinity and is outside of all creation and relates to that creation(humanity included)is female.
    The position for a “need” of female priests given explicit references to God’s maleness in scripture and tradition seems forced at best. Even give the claim that the church was unable to transcend its culture in regards to women.


  13. ad, matt, quick.
    Priests in the episcopal church don’t really “stand in place of” Christ… is this not a difference between RC doctrine and Anglican doctrine of the priesthood… at the Eucharist the whole Church offers the “sacrifice” with priest representing at the altar… in this gender really is not an issue. I’m fairly unread on this so be kind… have been reading you blog and the comments for some time now.


    1. John,

      One thing to note was that I was specifically coming at this from an angle that would make sense for Quickbeam who is a loyal Roman Catholic. So on a certain level, for good or not, I agree with Matthew that different Anglicans would explain what the priest does in the service for the Eucharist.

      That being said I do think there are some significant documents that would lead me to believe that Anglicans have a coherent understanding of the Priest during the Eucharist, which includes the priest “standing in” for Christ. Forgive their brevity and lack of detail.

      1) A quick Scriptural/theological note: Christ offered to God what we needed to offer but were unable to offer so that when in the Eucharist, the Church offers herself up, she only offers herself as/on account of Christ, sharing in his Sacrifice which is the kenotic self-giving of Christ in the life of the Holy Trinity.

      2) “…the action of the presiding minister in reciting again the words of Christ at the last supper and distributing to the assembly the holy gifts is seen to stand in sacramental relation to what Christ himself did in offering his own sacrifice” ARCIC, Final Report, p.35

      3) I believe the Prayer Books bear out the Priest as acting at certain parts of the liturgy “as Christ” though I lack the time for an exegisis

      4) Certainly, Anglicanism has not historically placed the same emphasis or use the same grammar as Roman Catholics or Eastern Orthodox – which I feel is a shortcoming as even unarticulated theologies of ministry in congregational evangelical communities have unexamined ways in which the pastor acts as Christ at various points in their ministry to the congregation; but that’s another post – but it’s there, and usually comes out when Anglicans are pressed to define themselves; such as the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral


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