Note to readers: Liturgical entries on this blog are based on the traditional calendar of the Books of Common Prayer and the traditional one-year Eucharistic lectionary. If you follow a newer calendar or three-year lectionary, there are variations in names for some Sundays and in the readings.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

The Anglican Blend

As we approach Pentecost and consider the descent of the Holy Spirit to establish and empower the Christian Church, I have been ruminating on the place of Anglicanism in the universal Church. All groups of Christians seek to defend their existence. The difference is that unlike some other traditions, most Anglicans do not claim to be the one true Church.  Sometimes, such Anglican breadth may seem like a weakness, and sometimes, it may seem like a strength, but in either case, Anglican doctrine is not as clearly identifiable as the doctrine of most other Christian traditions. Historically at least, Anglican liturgy and Anglican polity have been easier to identify while Anglican doctrine has seemed less distinctive.

Anglican doctrine has covered a wide range. At times, this wide range has been a practical necessity because of political or societal factors. At other times, Anglicans have deliberately sought to be comprehensive for theological reasons. Thus, Bishop John Cosin (1594-1672) has often been quoted as saying that the Anglican Church is "Protestant and Reformed according to the principles of the ancient Catholic Church." Likewise, Archbishop Geoffrey Fisher (1887-1972) wrote that Anglicanism "has no peculiar thought, practice, creed or confession of its own. It has only the Catholic Faith of the ancient Catholic Church, as preserved in the Catholic Creeds and maintained in the Catholic and Apostolic constitution of Christ's Church from the beginning." In other words, Anglican theology is both Catholic and Protestant. It brings together and hands on the best from the whole experience of broadly orthodox Christianity.

So is there anything unique in  Anglican theology? Yes, but upon reflection, it is not in particular doctrines. It is rather in the blend. Like a fine coffee (or should I say tea?), Anglicanism takes good things from the whole of Christian history and tradition- from the Apostles and ancient Fathers to medieval and modern Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, to Lutheranism and Calvinism, and yes, even to contemporary evangelical and charismatic movements. Particular Anglicans may stress one aspect or the other, but it is the blend which gives Anglicanism its unique flavor in doctrine as well as in liturgy and polity. Of course, Scripture and ancient catholic tradition set limits in both doctrine and morality; everything is not permissible. Yet, the Anglican blend is a positive characteristic; it is a recognition that God has worked and still works in various and sundry ways.

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Evangelical and Catholic

Over the years- indeed decades, I have reflected upon the polarities in my personal theological development, in the thought and practice of Christianity, and in the history of Anglican Christianity. I grew up in a southern "evangelical" environment and was grounded in Scripture. Yet, even as a pre-teen, I was aware that there was more to Christianity than the local expressions (mostly Baptist and Methodist) that I saw around me. In addition to Bible study, I started reading Christian history and biography. In my late teens, I visited services of other traditions and was attracted to historic liturgy. Through most of college and seminary, I focused on historical studies in religion. I was heavily influenced by mainline liberalism, but was never totally at ease with its theological and moral reductionism.

Then my senior year in seminary, I had a renewing religious experience of Christ as Savior. This personal experience was immediately connected to the traditional aspects of liturgy surviving in a university chapel service. In my courses and in my personal readings, I began to ponder anew the common core in various streams of Christian theology. My personal faith in the living Christ and in the Holy Scriptures could not be separated from the Creeds, Baptism, and the Eucharist.

From those days onward, my theology has been guided by two principles: first, evangelical; secondly, catholic. The center is faith in the good news of redemption through the incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God the Son. Yet, in thought and experience, this evangelical faith has been guarded and expressed through the catholic or universal teachings and practices of Christianity. To best understand the Gospel, one must look at what has been believed by faithful Christians across varied times, places, cultures, and ecclesiastical structures. Then one sees the importance of factors such as the canon of Scripture, the ancient creeds, the two basic sacraments, and ordained leadership. There is a constant give and take between the evangelical and the catholic; they depend upon each other for their best expressions. Despite external ecclesiastical loyalties, anyone who values both is a brother or sister in faith. And anyone who neglects one or both of these elements is missing the fullness of Christianity.