For any traditional believer or traditional congregation in the Episcopal Church, these are dark and grievous days. News is abundant and widespread of persecution of traditional believers, and continuous and progressive rejection of traditional beliefs and practices by the leadership of the Episcopal Church. Many traditional Episcopalians are well-versed in these apostasies and travails, and have developed facility in doom-saying and disparagement.
Nevertheless, it is unbecoming of Christians to let these things be uppermost in our life, for life in Jesus is always joyful and full of hope that does not disappoint. It seems good to me to remember and recount some of the great strengths of Anglicanism. Though they have not always been foremost in our tradition, and are mostly the exception today (at least in the Episcopal Church), these strengths are fundamental to the heart and life of Anglicanism.
At the time of the Reformation Anglicanism succeeded in actually “reforming” itself, i.e. it maintained the riches of the undivided Church while purifying its doctrines and practices. Because of this, for example, Anglican laity have a place in leadership; we recognize saints in the original, “old fashioned” way; we permit pious opinions to differ on lesser doctrines; and we allow priests and bishops to marry. Anglicanism is neither authoritarian nor congregational. Anglicanism was one of the first Communions at the time of the Reformation to restore the liturgy to the language of the people and the only one to emphasize and balance both Word and Sacrament. Its liturgy remained Catholic but became accessible to the laity.
Anglicanism is known for beautiful liturgy; there are few services more beautiful than Anglican cathedral Evensong. Anglicanism is known for producing good music and has produced some of the best hymn writers and musicians in the history of the Church. Anglicanism is known for “good taste”, at its best being neither too maudlin in its prayers, nor too shallow in its teaching, nor too sterile in its theology.
Anglicanism has the humility never to have claimed to be “the” Church, but rather has striven to be the via media, the “middle way” that is attractive to Christians of many different styles and backgrounds. Therefore Anglicanism was able to recognize the strengths and gifts in each of the fragments of the broken Church, and was the first to exercise leadership in ecumenical matters, striving to bring Christians of differing churches, backgrounds, and convictions into unity.
Anglican missionary practice is to move leadership to indigenous people as quickly as is practical. Anglicans are consistently good financial givers. The best Anglican theologians are parish priests and educated laity rather than academics or monastics—that is, our understanding of theology is grounded in daily life rather than “ivory towers”. At its best, Anglicanism does not compromise the truths of revealed and received Christianity but lives them out in pastoral situations—that is, in the daily lives of the faithful.
Anglicanism is truly comprehensive, able to live from time to time with anomaly for the sake of truth. Anglicanism values moderation in all things, thereby becoming able to see the “whole picture”. Anglicanism values the place of the human mind and reason in educating and shaping people into sanctity. Questioning is encouraged not to make a virtue out of doubt, but to provide the occasion for deep conversion and formation of individuals and communities.
Anglicanism is centrally Scriptural without being either unthinkingly, rigidly fundamentalistic or tolerant of a disregard for Scriptural authority. Anglicans produced the King James Version of the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer. Most of the great renewal movements of the past few centuries that have influenced many other churches originated in Anglicanism. Many of the greatest preachers of past centuries have been Anglicans. Many of the most influential and effective teachers, writers, and workers of the Christian world over the past few centuries have been Anglicans. Off the top of my head I can think of C. S. Lewis, George MacDonald, Charles Williams, T. S. Eliot, W.H. Auden, Florence Nightingale, William Wilberforce, William Law, Richard Hooker, John and Charles Wesley, John Donne, and George Herbert.
There may be some readers of this blog who will want to post a response listing the many exceptions and violations of these principles, or postulate that what I have written is mostly a nostalgic remembrance of past glories that are no more. They may be right; time will tell. Even if they are, however, I think it is good to remember the glories of our heritage, for what is not of God will fade, and what is true will be preserved. There is much in Anglicanism that is true for all time, not found very often in other churches, and which we must make sure that traditionalists do not permit to slip away because we are too busy complaining.