Friday, December 23, 2011

The Changing Face Of 21st Century Anglicanism

Fr. Dale Matson

            There are approximately 80 million Anglicans worldwide which makes it the third largest Christian denomination. While the Church of England is considered the largest province, the numbers are somewhat misleading since English citizens are automatically included as members of the established church whether they attend or not. Today, the average Anglican is an African female. There are nearly 40 million Anglicans in the 11 African provinces.  What does it mean to be Anglican in the 21st century? This is perhaps the main question and the primary task before us today.  This is a time when Anglicanism is experiencing both realignment, and related cultural shifts in membership. Some would say that the realignment is a matter of conservative versus liberal ideology. Some would even say that it is a battle for the faith once delivered but it is also a struggle for control of who shapes Anglican identity. The liberal (sometimes called Broad Church) focus is on inclusion, social justice and the right to innovate. They see God doing a new thing in this generation. They also advocate autonomy from centralized authority. They see themselves as relevant to contemporary society because they are informed and changed by culture. This includes embracing issues such as environmental sustainability and related measures to ensure this, like energy conservation and population control. This portion of Anglicans is located primarily in the North and West (also New Zealand and parts of Australia) and includes the See of Canterbury, the historical center of Anglicanism. The See of Canterbury is the residence of the Archbishop of the World Wide Anglican Communion and it is the Archbishop who recognizes who is and who is not Anglican by which bishops are invited to the Lambeth Conference held every 10 years. The liberals are ahead of their theology with their practice but practice is precedence and precedence creates “new tradition.” Liberals have established their branding ahead of the conservatives who have defined themselves in the negative by saying essentially that they are not like the liberals. Those conservatives who have separated themselves for the sake of truth as they understand it have lost the public relations battle with the liberals who have successfully portrayed conservatives as schismatic and bigots in the media. The liberals have most of the money because of endowments, a higher  per capita wage and governmental financial support as in the established church in England. However, The liberal face of Anglicanism is disappearing. For example, in 2011 the Episcopal Church (TEC) reported a 16% decline in membership over the previous decade. There are also significant membership declines in the Church of England.  and The Anglican Church of Canada with a decline of more than half its members in the last 40 years.
Conservatives are more likely to be found in the other traditional Anglican streams which include Evangelical, Anglo Catholic and Charismatic and constitute the green shoots on the Anglican tree. The majority of Anglicans are in what is called the Global South, which includes Africa, South America, Asia and Sidney Anglicans. Conservatives are increasing. For example the newly formed Anglican Church North America (ACNA) increased membership by 15% in its first year.  Many conservative Anglicans live in former English colonies where Christianity was introduced by Anglican missionaries.  The 1662 Book of Common Prayer is still used by many African Anglicans. What do these conservative groups have in common? I believe they would all agree on the basic four tenants of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral of 1886, 1888. Scripture is the revealed Word of God; The Nicene Creed is a sufficient statement of the Christian Faith, Baptism and Communion are the two dominical sacraments. There is a Historic Episcopate locally adapted. This is of course the minimum standard since it was designed as ecumenical outreach toward greater church unity. Conservatives would also insist on the primacy of Scripture along with Tradition and Reason, the 39 Articles of Religion and the call of the Great Commission. There is another important issue that is increasingly dividing the liberals and conservatives. It is Christology. For conservatives Christ is the only way one may obtain salvation (Article XVIII). He is God and He was raised bodily from the dead. Problems emerge for conservatives when Evangelicals tend to emphasize the Protestant and reformed side of Anglicanism and others including Anglo Catholics emphasize the reformed and Catholic aspects of Anglicanism. Women’s ordination is an unresolved issue also. Where are the roots of Anglicanism? Is it The Apostolic and undivided church or Cranmer, Parker and the Calvinists? Is it both?
Lastly, there is a disconnect  between the liberal power structures of the WWAC and the people they lead. The leaders do not reflect the mind of the communion. The power structures are based on history and tradition but underlying this is also the scent of imperialism and colonialism. There is also a rift that has become an irreconcilable chasm between liberals and conservatives.    
This is one of several pieces that has been and will be posted on our Soundings Blog for discussion. Self-knowledge and identity are important for both individuals and for Anglicanism. This is especially true in North America where our Anglican Christianity is attracting a new generation of those who seek the face of God in a culture that is less tolerant and increasingly hostile. (See the article on "Anglican Fever.") We offer structure and discipline for those who need it. We offer a Mystical faith for those who seek it. We offer a historic faith for those looking for context. But primarily, we offer Christ in Whom we are being saved.
“But sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.” (1 Peter 3:15)



Dale Matson said...

"While the Church of England is considered the largest province, the numbers are somewhat misleading since English citizens are automatically included as members of the established church whether they attend or not."
[The following is a correction from an English blogger friend who contacted me by email]

"Not entirely. About 25 m of us in our census self-identify as Cof E out of 60m of us and it is the 20 something which is associated with us as a province and the reasoning. There is no automatic inclusion. ACA is about 1.7 m and 3-4 m or so turn up at Easter and Christmas services, and even more say they come to a service during a year or other church activity." Thanks Pageantmaster

RMBruton said...

You say that "The 1662 Book of Common Prayer is still used by many African Anglicans." I occasionally hear that from a friend; but who, amongst the Africans really uses the genuine 1662 BCP and not some other text which they would like people to simply believe is the 1662 BCP? I hold that very very few people do so. I still use it and know of only one other clergyman in the United States who does, as well. And we don't belong to any organized structure which does. I feel as though there is credence being given to a mildly popular myth that the Africans still use the 1662 BCP.

Dale Matson said...

You could be correct that it may not be the case but the "ideal standard". I'm sure that even if the 1662 prayer book is used, it is in the vernacular.