Centred Anglicanism: A Proposal
Tribalization, Toleration or Integration
1. The Anglican Church has within its life a number of traditions: Anglo-Catholicism; Liberal; Evangelical; Charismatic. These have flowed in dynamic ways through our church’s history, growing stronger or weaker on occasions; blending some times (e.g. liberal catholic Anglicans, and evangelical charismatic Anglicans), while at other times operating tribally, excluding each other or marginalising the other kinds.
2. There is a tendency for like to attract like and for ecclesiastical traditions to protect a dominant tradition. Sydney Diocese defines itself in a number of ways to preserve its characteristic evangelical character, as do other Australian dioceses too. Dioceses will tolerate a limited presence of the disfavoured tradition in their midst, but limits to expansion will be in place, whatever words are spoken about valuing and learning from the minority traditions.
3. In this context, magnified by distance, history, Diocesan boundaries, church law and polarizing issues, the Australian Anglican Church is seriously tribalized. “Broad Anglicanism” has disappeared. Bishop Tom Frame has lamented the loss of consensus Anglicanism, claiming that this situation is imperilling the survival and mission of the Anglican Church of Australia.
4. The tribalization of the four traditions of Anglicanism means that they are not able to balance and enrich one another. More importantly, they are prevented from moderating one another. We have seen our own version of the ‘Delta Effect’ of church history noted by Richard Lovelace. As the main channel of church history proceeds forward, streams break away over some issue, leaving behind much with them. These in turn have later tributaries and when other breaks occur, the face of the church resembles not a mighty strong river of God but a shallow, weak, dispersed delta of eccentric creeks.
The Delta effect happens within the main traditions too, which become fragmented through splits and divergent influences. Thus Anglo-Catholicism has split into traditionalists and liberal catholics: so too has the evangelical tradition branched into conservatives, liberal evangelicals and charismatic evangelicals. Those in the branches of the church delta can find themselves far away in practice and thought from others.
5. Sometimes minority traditions have been ejected by the dominant group. The removal of 2000 Church of England Puritans by tests of conscience in 1662 stands out. They were not able to train their clergy in their own tradition for several centuries. Most of the time, marginalization is carried out by appointment policy and cultural segregation. We have a new set of tests to apply to the consciences of clergy applicants to ensure we preserve our purity. The schisms of church history have usually weakened the church.
6. This fragmentation brings weakness within Anglicanism. The particular gifts and moderating influence of the traditions enrich the whole. What happens to the Anglican Church in any Diocese when evangelicalism is expelled or marginalised? You end with a church that loses the gift of evangelism and the strong Biblical base that is necessary for renewal. Tom Frame considers what would happen if the evangelical tradition were to be removed from the Anglican Church of Australia: “Without the Evangelical witness, the Anglican Church would lose its distinctive character and eventually resemble the liberal Protestant churches whose demise is only a matter of time.”
7. As the tribal traditions within Anglicanism separate, they become self-referencing and develop like Galapagos island animals. Isolated from a living interdependence with other traditions, the tribes become more extreme and eccentric versions of themselves. My problem with the labels is that they focus our minds on the boundaries and definitional limits. “Catholic” is in opposition to “Evangelical”; “Charismatic” is in opposition to “Evangelical”. The evangelical tradition in which I was nurtured ruled out some of the Biblical gifts of the Spirit, teaching that they had ceased. I was warned off any contaminating contact with charismatics and there was explicit teaching against this tradition. Each party has its circumcision issue or boundary markers. These function to exclude others and protect the group. The history of the Anglican Church of Australia in the past 30 years is the sad story of fragmentation.
8. The tribal use of the terms “liberal”, “evangelical”, “catholic” is apparent on closer consideration. Evangelicals are also catholics in the historic sense. Catholic Anglicans should hold to the gospel and the apostolic faith. The usage is defined by the edges, not the centre. If we say that a Diocese is a catholic Diocese, members of the evangelical tradition will hear the clear message that they are a minority. One ordination candidate of evangelical tradition was asked by a fellow ordinand what he was doing in this Diocese, since it is a liberal catholic one.
9. The four streams of Anglicanism can be viewed as each giving slightly different emphasis to the four sources of authority in God: the Institution, the Book, the Inner Light/Spirit and human Reason. But most members of these traditions would hold to the value of all four bases of belief. For example, Anglican Evangelicalism has a distinguished valued emphasis on scholarship, and Reason. It is at the unbalanced extremes of each tradition that you get the stereotypical difficulties of integration: the crazy charismatic, the ultra-liberal who has lost hold of Biblical faith; the fundamentalist with narrow Biblicism. Richard Hooker’s famous threefold sources of authority are usually found in the main Anglican traditions, even if the balance is struck in different degrees.
10. I believe that a way forward is to focus on the centre, not the periphery. I call it “Centred Anglicanism”. The centre will be the core of classical Christianity as held by most Anglicans. Thus, the work of Christ for our salvation would be non-negotiable, even if the nature of the atonement is understood differently. In Centred Anglicanism there will be an atoning work of Christ.
11. Centred Anglicanism has a good claim to embody the Anglican essence. The Anglican Church has its roots in the classic Christianity of the Scriptures and the Creeds, which is the basis for church growth seen around the world. We have a rich tradition of worship in the sacramental and sensory mode. From our Reformation heritage we have the evangelical strength of Biblical teaching and gospel proclamation. Out of the Wesley Anglican revival came the roots of modern rediscovery of the dynamic presence of the Holy Spirit in the renewal tradition. Charismatic renewal has been active in world-wide Anglicanism for decades. Centred Anglicanism will keep the sacramental worship alive by the gifts of the Holy Spirit. It will value reason and Biblical teaching, worship as well as evangelism.
12. The NCD Trinitarian compass has similarities to this vision of Centred Anglicanism. The NCD concept explains the different emphases in the Christian Church as representing an aspect of God’s being and purposes as experienced by us.
· The Green dimension represents the rational, reflective aspect of life as seen in God’s Creation. Churches and individuals can focus on society, the world, on science, knowledge, art and politics. Here we are encountering God as Creator.
· The Red dimension places revelation and redemption in the focus. The truth of God, commitment to God and the proclamation of the Word of God are emphasised. Here we encounter God as the Redeemer, Jesus.
· The Blue dimension emphasizes the dynamic presence of God the Holy Spirit in transformation and power. Here we are experiencing God the Holy Spirit.
13. The problem for Anglicans is that we have so lost the centre and the genetic diversity of Centred Anglicanism through selected breeding and segregation, that we no longer understand what it could look like in practice. It is not enough to say that we value and learn from the other traditions. In Centred Anglicanism we will find ways to integrate the strengths in a deeper, natural way. A Centred Anglican Diocese will not be like a mosaic where most of the tiles have a dominant colour, with a few different colours found here and there, for effect and the appearance of diversity. Rather it will be like a hologram, a moving picture with depth, created by the blending and interaction of different colours.