THIS study of the question of orthodoxy in contemporary Anglicanism is a courageous and thoughtful analysis of some critical challenges facing the Anglican Communion and the wider “Anglican” constituency.
Charles Erlandson provides both an essentially reliable account of the current situation in the world and some tentative proposals for greater cohesion among those who identify with the Anglican tradition. While Dr. Erlandson has a lot of research to say about the Anglican Communion of Churches, he does not write within one of these churches, but within the Reformed Episcopal Church, which is now part of the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA). If he speaks of a “continuous Anglican” situation, he does not present it as a panacea, but recognizes that it too is complex and conflicting.
One of the strengths of this book is the frankness with which the author faces head-on the growing diversity of beliefs and practices, not only within the historic Anglican Churches of the Communion, but also within the “continuing networks”. », In particular GAFCON. and ACNA. He realizes that separating from an historic Church for reasons of conscience and realigning, within a new structure, with those of seemingly similar minds provides no guarantee of unanimity or stability.
Throughout the history of the Christian Church, acts of separation have given rise to other acts of separation, leading to the tragedy of fragmented Christianity which is the only form of Christianity that any of us know. I do not know of any great theologian who has taught that what we may regard as a “scandal” in our Church justifies our abandonment. John Calvin, whose authority could count for those of a Church which calls itself “reformed”, taught just the opposite.
An intriguing aspect of this work is the methodology that is proposed for the study of religious identity, which is then applied to the deployment of Anglican identity from King Henry VIII’s break with Roman jurisdiction in 1533 until our days.
Erlandson specifies three key components of religious identity in general: ecclesial authority and communion relationships; canonical, liturgical and doctrinal norms; and the practical and pastoral elements of the life of a Church. For example, the first principle, that of ecclesial authority, is reflected in Anglicanism in the requirement that membership in the Anglican Communion of Churches implies that a Church be in communion with the see of Canterbury. No one suggests that this is the only criterion for Anglican identity. This is a necessary but not sufficient condition for the membership of a Church in the Anglican Communion.
The 1930 Lambeth Conference provided a now classic definition: “The Anglican Communion is a communion, within the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church alone, of those dioceses, provinces or regional churches duly constituted in communion with the See of Canterbury, which have the following characteristics in common: a. they support and propagate the Catholic and Apostolic Faith and Order as generally stated in the Book of Common Prayer, as authorized in their various Churches; b. they are particular or national Churches and, as such, promote in each of their territories a national expression of Christian faith, life and worship; and C. they are bound not by central legislative and executive authority, but by mutual loyalty supported by the common council of bishops in conference.
Dr. Erlandson’s sole purpose is to stick to the “orthodoxy” of doctrine. “Orthodox” appears in the title, in several chapter titles and subheadings, and throughout. It shows how those who identify with the Anglican tradition of doctrine, liturgy and spirituality, but outside any of the historic churches of the Anglican Communion, pride themselves on their “orthodoxy”.
The sincere intention to be Orthodox is laudable and one that every Christian should cherish. But, as Erlandson shows, it is not easy to define what is the essence of “orthodoxy”. Definitions of orthodoxy are inevitably contextual, oriented towards the challenges and dilemmas of the times. Widespread Anglican orthodoxy once included the divine right of kings, the eternal punishment of unbelievers, and the Pope as Antichrist. One of the main identifiers of the author’s orthodoxy is the rejection of physical relationships between people of the same sex. But this criterion of definition of orthodoxy is a contemporary innovation, untraceable in the ecumenical creeds or in the teaching of the great theologians.
The antithesis of orthodoxy in this book is “liberalism”. Theological liberalism is synonymous with greater freedom in the interpretation of Christian belief than was permitted in previous ages – and all church cheers take advantage of this latitude. There are aggressive and intolerant forms of liberalism, but they lack the liberal ingredient. The terms “orthodox” and “liberal”, which are plastic and subjective, cannot support the weight that Erlandson wants to give them. They distort stereotypes, and theological discourse would be better off without them.
The author’s claim that the Church of England has strayed from “orthodoxy” and succumbed to “liberalism” because there have been “recent measures in favor of homosexuality Does not do justice to the position of the Church of England. The Church of England is prohibited by law from performing same-sex marriages. The liturgical blessing of same-sex unions in church is also prohibited. And, given that there is a growing evangelical hegemony in the Church of England, it is implausible to suggest that it is heading down the slippery slope of “liberalism,” whatever that means. The Church of England remains orthodox in its doctrine: the gospel is preached, creeds are recited, and scriptures are exposed, week after week.
At the end of the book, Erlandson came to a rather unstable position. He exposed the differences and tensions within the “permanent Anglican” camp which prides itself on its “orthodoxy”. He wants to be Orthodox, but how? In the search for a righteous belief and a righteous practice, a concept of development is necessary. Development is present in the New Testament and the early Church and has never ceased in the Church. Where is development taking us now? Dr. Erlandson has produced a stimulating and at times provocative book that could prove useful, provided we have the common good of the Church at heart.
The Reverend Dr Paul Avis is Honorary Professor in the Department of Theology and Religion at Durham University, Honorary Fellow in the Department of Theology and Religion at the University of Exeter and Editor-in-Chief of Ecclesiology.
Anglican Orthodox Identity: The quest for unity in a diverse religious tradition
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