A New Anglicanism
Just this past term I have had the great pleasure of co-teaching - with Professor Ashley Null, the renowned Cranmer scholar - a MA unit offered here at Moore College entitled 'Anglican Identity'. In it we made careful study of the development of the English reformation and the works of leading figures like Fisher, Cranmer and Hooker.
A highlight was reading the moving testimony of Catherine Parr, last wife of Henry VIII, to her conversion to the gospel of justification by faith.
I was curious, however, as to why so few Sydney clergy thought this was a subject that might interest them, or that the study of the founding documents of our denomination might be well worth their while.
This was confirmed by casual conversations with Moore students. I asked them 'how do you understand your identity as an Anglican?' - and was met with baffled looks and shrugs. The denomination is a 'good boat to fish from', mostly, but there is (it seems to me) no great passion for Anglicanism itself and no great commitment to study its formularies and its history.
Perhaps it is because the international controversies have become wearisome and even a source of embarrassment. Perhaps it is because the denomination changes at glacial speed - and we in our time are addicted to change, even for its own sake. Perhaps we are also in the grip of the 'lone ranger' vision of the brave church planter, unencumbered by denominational vagaries. Perhaps the baby-boomer generation have so scrubbed away any outward signs of Anglican distinctiveness that it is hard to see what it is anymore.
But I was surprised that even the GAFCON movement, with its bold and remarkable vision for an global Anglican movement, has not caught the local imagination. It has been perceived as a political rather than a spiritual movement.
More than ever, we need to renew our vision of what it means to be an evangelical Anglican. My conviction is that not only is being evangelical the most authentic way of being Anglican - we've been saying that for years - but also that being Anglican is a great way of being evangelical.
Firstly, because the Anglican formularies (the 39 Articles, the Prayer-Book and the Homilies) subject themselves at every turn to the authority of scripture. Though they provide an extraordinarily rich theological foundation, they also offer themselves to be tested against a scriptural norm.
Second, because Anglicanism has a great sense of what is of primary and what is of secondary importance. Other Protestant denominations have a tendency to make secondary issues - like the manner of baptism or church discipline or church government - a primary distinguishing mark. And they endlessly divide because of it. The Anglican formularies commit us to important things - and allow us freedom under Scripture on the secondaries. What a blessing!
Third, Anglicanism is a great mission strategy. From the beginning, Cranmer and the others knew that they were in a battle for hearts - hearts, like Catherine Parr's, that needed conversion. Today, the opportunities opening up for mission because of our Anglican networks - in Sydney and elsewhere - are extraordinary.
I am sure I could add more to this list. But I am not sure that the message is being heard.
The text of Ed Loane’s wonderful speech to the Anglican Church League is here. In it, Ed recounts the League’s century-long determination to defend the evangelical character of the diocese of Sydney from liberalism and tractarianism. It struck me however that for most of that century evangelical Anglicans knew what the Anglicanism they were defending was. There was a strong positive as a corollory to the negative. If today we have lost a sense of what that Anglicanism really is, then a determination to defend it becomes merely negativity for its own sake, or sectarianism. We need urgently to relocate the evangelically-beating heart of our Anglicanism. No amount of fighting off charismatics or New Perspectivists or Anglo-Catholics will seem meaningful if there is not this real sense that being Anglican is worth it for a dyed-in-the-wool evangelical.