I've been an Anglican for a few years now, and although I am still learning some of the inner workings of the communion, I believe my perspective of some of the tradition's strengths and challenges could be helpful for those considering the church.
Let me start with my conclusion: Being an Anglican is strong and faithful way to be a Christian. I acknowledge that it isn't the only faithful way, and I don't know that I would even argue that it is the best way for everyone. But I do think it is a strong way, and here are a couple of reasons why.
1. The Anglican church may be the most catholic church in the world today. When I say catholic, I am not referring to a particular brand of Christianity, but rather to the sense it which it was originally used in the ancient creeds of the Church: the church universal. The Anglican church affirms the historic creeds without placing undue weight on additional theological particulars. This allows for both Calvinists and Arminians, Pentecostals, Evangelicals, and Anglo-catholics to worship together acknowledging that there is more in their beliefs that unite them than there is that separates them. The Anglican church unites around a historic, common liturgical worship rather than a few theological particulars, and it refuses to exclude other Christian traditions except for the case of clear heresy. The church has maintained many of the ancient worship forms, which strengthens ties with the Roman Catholic church and the Eastern Orthodox church, while still embracing necessary reformed theological positions such as salvation by faith alone. This allows for the breadth of God's beautifully diverse Church to be present within the Anglican Communion. It is truly a catholic church.
2. It is a church committed to the Word and Sacrament. It is easy for a church to exclude one of these primary foci of Christian worship, but Anglicans hold them together. Each weekly worship service includes a large portion of the Scriptures to be read and a sermon, as well as the Eucharist being celebrated. This allows for the beautiful balance of God revealing Himself clearly through the word of God, and mysteriously through the bread and wine. In Anglican worship God is both the Known and the Unknowable. He is both the Revealed and the Hidden. He is the Word, and the Word made Flesh. There is a profound spiritual health that can come from this balance, as it engenders, simultaneously, confidence and humility.
3. It is a church on Mission. The Anglican church today is now a communion that is predominantly made up of members from the 2/3rds world. As such, there is a passion in the communion for the advancing of the Gospel of salvation around the world. In North America this has manifest with the call to plant 1,000 new churches, of which, we at St. Paul's are one. This global mission is both committed to the historic, orthodox faith, while also addressing holistic physical and social needs as well. Remember, this is a communion that believes in Word and Sacrament. Many people around the world today are finding salvation in Jesus Christ, especially in Africa. And with the 2/3rds world leading the way, the Anglican Communion is being thrust into a fruitful global mission.
1,2,3. History, Governance, Division. The Anglican church has its challenges. For one, it is often perceived that the genesis of the Anglican church dates back to King Henry VIII's desire for a divorce in the 16th century, which the Roman Church would not allow. However, scratching history's surface a little deeper we find that the Anglican church was begun long before this event, dating back at least until the 6th century with Augustine of Canterbury's mission in 597AD. Augustine was sent from Rome to help give more structure to the native Celtic Christians. When Augustine arrived, the Celtic Christian faith was folded into the Roman church, while still acknowledging that the Celtic Christians were functioning as a viable apostolic church.
The governance of the church is no less confusing. There is not one particular head of the Anglican church. The Church of England, and the Archbishop of Canterbury historically carry a great deal of influence. But each worldwide member church is governed independently, and is responsible for choosing to stay within the bounds of the bishops' agreed upon doctrines and practices. This usually happens, but as you would imagine, there are exceptions. That brings us to the third challenge: divisions.
The Anglican communion is facing a number of divisions that are straining the global church. These divisions include the issues of homosexuality, women's ordination, the sharing of power with the 2/3rds world, and the exclusivity of Jesus Christ as the means of salvation. While some western churches such as the Episcopal church tend to take more modern views of these issues, many of the prominent African and Hispanic churches around the world are holding to a historic, orthodox faith. These churches have begun to organize themselves and are dedicated to helping guide the global Anglican Communion into a future rooted in the faith that Christians have held across the centuries, while actively joining God's mission to a world in need. I am thankful for the churches of the 2/3rds world being willing to lead the global communion forward in this way.
The Anglican church has its challenges, but it is an ancient church, with deep spirituality, and a passion to join God in mission. And it is these things that make me proud to be an Anglican, and to encourage others to consider the tradition.
May God guide our communion forward in the decades ahead, and may we bear much fruit for His kingdom. In Christ, amen.
Author: Cameron Lemons
Reflections from the pastor