Once again this week I was subjected to the oft repeated claim that only two churches have any integrity, validity, catholic standing, and all that. Against the backdrop of current news that highlights the "realignment" within the Anglican Communion-those other Anglicans who don't always share our convictions-the following was in an e-mail from a long time friend:
"The only two churches that have enough past to be taken seriously in the future do not show the slightest interest in any such realignment."
This friend long ago became a member of the Orthodox Church, and his sentence is about those exclusive and unique (?) institutions we may call the Two One True Churches. That is, the Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church (with its other Catholic churches under the Pope). Indeed, we love and honor both of them, which is more than they usually say for each other. In our ecclesiology there is room for them both as part of the Church in its fullness, unlike the respective ecclesiology of each of them concerning the other (let alone everybody else). If the Two One True Churches were no longer twain but one, then they might have some credibility to their exclusivist claim. Their mutual exclusion still bears witness to the fact that they too have erred at different times, and have yet to work out their differences.
Nonetheless, I cannot blame these churches for the fact that many of their members have a wrongheaded notion of Anglicanism. They confuse Anglicanism with the "Anglican Communion," and along with us they notice it suffers from a corrupted polity and heretical doctrines. Like us, they have no desire to be part of that structure, or to be contaminated by its errors. Therefore, I contributed my own thoughts to the e-mail stream:
"It is almost impossible to find traces of Anglicanism in the Anglican Communion. The mantle was discarded and taken up just over thirty years ago. The best the Anglican Communion can come up with is the GAFCON statement; but we (in the Continuum) still abide by (1977), which merely asserted Traditional Christianity. of St. Louis
"It is my experience with conservative Episcopalians and with realigned Anglicans (of the sort who mistake Stand Firm for something Anglican) that even the most 'conservative' of them (or even the most 'orthodox' by their standard) do not recognize quotations of, or allusions to, classic Anglican formularies. They think the Articles are Calvinism (which the Calvinists of the time did not, hence their consistent opposition), they think Baptismal Regeneration is debatable, they think Apostolic Succession is optional, etc. These things are debatable in the large world of ecumenical Christian relations, but they are settled matters in Anglican formularies, leaving no room for that kind of 'comprehensiveness.' I have even found self-proclaimed Anglicans who are surprised to hear that Anglicanism has always defined itself as both Catholic and Protestant (which means these folks have absolutely no understanding whatsoever of the patrimony they claim for themselves). Frankly, these 'conservatives' have no roots at all.
"How can they understand the Anglican mind if they draw a complete blank when I remind them that the sacraments of baptism and communion 'are generally necessary to salvation' (Catechism, and Offices of Instruction)? Or, if they argue against the priestly power to absolve sins (the Ordinal-rather explicit about that I might add)? I have seen other examples, and they are astonishing. The treatment of women's 'ordination' as as a 'secondary issue' requires treating at least one sacrament 'generally necessary to salvation' as secondary.
"The result of this rootless 'conservatism' is that much of what I write on The Continuum blog is designed to convert Anglicans to Anglicanism"
Nonetheless, I can put up with only so much, especially from friends. To say that only the Two One True Churches "have enough past to be taken seriously in the future," is simply wrong. First of all, what is required to be taken seriously is fidelity to the true doctrine of Christ as revealed in Scripture, and as taught and defended in the Tradition, and the Sacraments. The first part of Article XIX makes this clear by defining the Visible Church as "a congregation of faithful men, in the which the pure word of God is preached and the sacraments be duly ministered according to Christ's ordinance in all those things that of necessity are requisite to the same." Indeed, what else is there?
If what gives credibility is simple continuity of an institution recognized by a distinctive name, then to call ourselves Anglicans, especially as Anglicans of the Continuing Church, is unimpressive. This gives us only a brief time in which we can look back on a past of our own. That weakness coupled with smaller numbers than the Two One Trues, must provide a constant source of amusement to them. They are so ancient, and so big. We are so young and, compared to their millions upon millions, so small. They know that when we finally "get it," we will take their advice: "When you get to the fork in the road, take it." Somehow, the purity of the word of God preached in our churches, and the sacraments no matter how duly administered, only makes it easier for them to deride us. Just who do we think we are? At least the many Protestant denominations out there don't think of themselves as really Catholic, at least not like the great big Odd Couple of east and west (don't forget to fill out your Form 1054 by April 15th).
First of all, to meet the Odd Couple on its own terms, the Church of England is ancient, and our Anglican Patrimony, in terms of a claim to a past, beats the Russian Orthodox Church hands down. After the ancient Celtic Church of the Britons (which was established in the First Century) worked out a mutual polity with the Church of the Angles (English) at the Council of Whitby (664 AD), they formed into one Ecclesia Anglicana at the Council of Hertford (673 AD). But, is even that claim to the past, impressive as it is, what matters most?
We hold to our Article XIX. Regarding the Visible Church, other than the genuine ministry of God's word and sacraments, what do we need in order to be part of the Body of Christ? These two things, God's word and the sacraments, in a congregation of faithful Christians, contain all the antiquity necessary in every meaningful way, of the whole Church. We have the past that truly matters: Our church was not born in the 7th century, and certainly not in the 16th century. It was born on the Day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came on the Apostles and other disciples that had gathered in the upper room, and were at that moment in the temple at prayer. Our Church was born in Jerusalem that very day, and it spread out from there to many nations.