Anglicanism’s Unique Doctrine

Before going any further, take a look at this post by Br. Tobias Haller, BSG, over at his blog, “In a Godward Direction.” It’s only two paragraphs, but it serves as a succinct explication of an unfortunate mindset that holds much of modern Anglicanism captive. To understand this mindset, let us carefully examine what Haller says here to see the assumptions that lie underneath. Bear in mind from the outset that I do this not to mock Haller or to suggest that the position he takes is unusual. Rather, it is a viewpoint that is all too common in modern Anglicanism and can be found throughout the spectrums of churchmanship and church politics that are usually cited as dividing lines within modern Anglicanism.

Haller begins, “The proposed Anglican Covenant threatens to destabilize, deface or destroy the one thing of value that Anglicanism has to offer: our polity as a comparatively loose fellowship of self-governing churches.” I am not interested here in debating the merits of the Anglican Covenant, but take note of the second half of the sentence. Haller suggests that polity is what Anglicanism has to offer the wider Christian world. Of course, polity can mean many things to many people. Over the last eight years, many leaders in the American Episcopal Church (TEC) have argued that the reason other Anglican churches have rejected TEC’s evolving approach to moral issues is because other Anglican churches have a different polity than TEC. The narrative is that the churches of the global south are autocratic and top down, while TEC is democratic and bottom up, and that therefore global south churches cannot understand how a church like TEC comes to its decisions. Polity has become something of a shibboleth in these conversations. Yet here, Haller, who certainly favors TEC’s approach to moral issues, argues that the thing that unifies us as Anglicans is the very thing that TEC has argued for years divides us. Haller now believes that there is such a thing as a unified Anglican polity. Moreover, he believes that said polity is characteristically Anglican and that it is the only uniquely Anglican thing there is, that if it were not for such a polity the Anglican Communion would really have nothing to contribute to the Church Catholic that cannot already be found in other quarters.

Haller proceeds to contrast polity with doctrine. “Anglicans have little to offer world Christendom by way of doctrine, except in the choice language of some of the very best English around.” The only thing remarkable, then, about Anglican doctrine is the poetic language used to express it. Otherwise, Anglican doctrine is not unique at all. It is hard to tell from this whether Haller believes that Anglicans have doctrine at all, but given some of his other writing I would be willing to grant him the benefit of the doubt that he believes that the doctrine of Anglicans is simply the core doctrine of the Christian faith. Clearly, though, he does not believe that this approach gives us any doctrine that cannot already be found elsewhere. Of course, the other possibility is that each individual church of the Communion has its own unique doctrine and that Anglicanism as such is doctrinally neutral. Either way, Haller’s point remains that Anglicanism teaches nothing unique.

“We do have (variably throughout the communion) some wonderful liturgy,” he says, “again in rather fine language and music (some of which has indeed been borrowed by other traditions.)” This just reinforces the previous point that the way we express our doctrine may be beautiful, which is itself something worth sharing, but that this does not in and of itself amount to a unique doctrine. Even in our liturgy, we offer nothing unique to the Christian world. “But it is the idea of being a fellowship, a communion — not a ‘church’ or a ‘federation’ — of self-governing churches whose individual decisions do not bind the others, even as they cooperate in mission and ministry, that forms our only peculiar offering to the tapestry of world Christendom.” Here we start to get to the meat of what Haller means by polity. Communion for him equals autonomous churches (geographically oriented, presumably, though he does not say this explicitly) that share in something called “mission” and “ministry” rather than sharing in doctrine. What holds us together is not a common doctrine and certainly not a unique doctrine, but a way of operating which Haller further explicates to be anti-hierarchical and christocentric. “It is a model of service and fellowship, of work with rather than power over, commended by Christ himself as a model of churchly governance. If that is not worth preserving, then we have little else to offer.”

The Myth of No Unique Doctrine

Haller falls into a common trope here, the idea that Anglicanism has no unique doctrine. It is an idea that I have tried to address here and here. Anglican scholars like Stephen Sykes and especially Paul Avis have attempted to debunk this myth in the last few decades with varying degrees of success. Nevertheless, the myth remains very much alive.

There is a bit of a grand irony in what Haller is trying to argue here. He asserts that Anglicanism has no unique doctrine but that we do have a unique polity and that this polity is worth conserving because it is patterned on the ministry of Christ Himself. Yet Haller’s belief about Anglican polity is itself a doctrine which is only commendable to the wider Christian world in so much as it is both unique to Anglicanism (meaning that if Anglicanism disappeared the world would not have access to this teaching) and founded on Christ’s own design (meaning that if this polity disappears than gone with it is something essential about Christian truth). So then, what Haller really means when he says we have no unique doctrine is that our only unique doctrine is in our polity, which in the way that he defines it is tied to the development of the Anglican Communion since the decline of colonialism. But if that’s the case, than classical Anglicanism–the Anglicanism that existed long before colonialism–has absolutely nothing to say to us. Classical Anglicanism is devoid of unique content altogether, which makes one wonder just why the Reformation needed to happen in the first place.

The Empty Hardware Theory

Lest we think that this sort of thinking is confined to liberal Episcopalians in North America, there are plenty of examples of this kind of thinking around the Anglican world. In the Diocese of Sydney, for example, this recent conference, linked to helpfully by a commenter on my last post, exhibits a wonderful example of the same kind of thinking at work. One of the conference organizers, Dr. Michael Jensen, attempts to argue that being an Anglican is the best way to be an Evangelical in Australia today, but in so doing he implies that one has a choice in the matter. “My conviction is that not only is being evangelical the most authentic way of being anglican [sic], we’ve been saying that for years, but also that being anglican [sic] is the best way of being evangelical in australia in the 21st century.” Note the caveat at the end there. It’s the best way to be Evangelical in a particular place (Australia) at a particular time (the 21st century). It is not universally the best way. The reason, according to Dr. Jensen, that Anglicanism is so great at this particular time in this particular place is because of its ecclesiology. “Evangelical software needs some ecclesial hardware to run on. It’s not catholic to say this. Other protestants are saying exactly the same thing. Mark Dever and Tim Keller for example. They’re not embarrased by the denominational hardware that they cast their evangelical software in. Why are anglicans so embarrased about our ecclesial hardware.”

Jensen, like Haller, seems to believe that Anglicanism has nothing doctrinally to offer that cannot be found in equal measure in other places. The good thing about Anglicanism for him is its ecclesiology, or more specifically its way of organizing itself as Church. In the context of contemporary Australia, Jensen believes that this model of organization is best, for reasons that he likely laid out in detail at the conference itself. But regardless of what those reasons are, Jensen’s assumption remains that church structure is really all Anglicanism is, that such structure may be worthwhile in one context but not in another, and that the only real reason to be an Anglican is so that you can more successfully do something else entirely.

Anglicanism and the Gospel

Obviously, I do not think this is so. Quite to the contrary of both Haller and Jensen, I believe that Anglicanism is much more than simply a convenient or even a holy organizational system. Our notions of unfettered autonomy for individual churches are very recent and not at all tied to classical Anglicanism which balanced the doctrine of self-governing, national churches with the much more central doctrine that Holy Scripture, interpreted through the lens of the Fathers and the creeds, is our highest authority, through which the Lord governs His Church. Our retaining of the three-fold ordained ministry is definitely a part of what we offer to the Church, but not because it is unique in itself, since others obviously have it. Rather, it is our defense of such a ministry on scriptural grounds that is essential, along with an unswerving conviction that such a ministry, along with the sacraments, ancient liturgy, an ongoing appeal to the Fathers, and a proper understanding of human reason and the natural law are absolutely at harmony with the key Reformation tenets of the authority of Scripture and justification by faith alone. That, in a nutshell, is the classical Anglican doctrine that Anglican Catholics and Evangelicals and Liberals alike tend to only refer to for their own purposes while ignoring the bits that they do not like. Yet, in truth, that unique mixture forms the basis of a shared though often obscured core of doctrine that makes Anglicanism at all intelligible and worthwhile. Without that classical understanding, Anglicanism really does just become a convenient organizational system, at which point one has to wonder what the purpose of Anglicanism will be once the organizational system is found wanting, as seems to be happening throughout the Anglican Communion today.

The telos of Anglicanism is not Anglicanism itself but Jesus Christ and the Good News that sets the world free from sin and death. Yet, if Anglicanism is anything, it is an articulation of that same Gospel, and the characteristic “hardware” that we make use of as Anglicans is a direct expression of the Gospel that we have received. We make a categorical mistake when we think of Anglicanism as merely a way of finding the Gospel and not as a true and accurate expression of the Gospel itself. Polity, by definition, is nothing more than an expedience. Ecclesiology, on the other hand, is the way in which we understand what it is to be the Church, which is the way in which we come to be made one with Jesus Christ. Our ecclesiology is an essential element of Anglicanism not for the sake of convenience but by the grace of God.

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14 Responses to Anglicanism’s Unique Doctrine

  1. Fr J., I don’t think you really make your point, and I don’t think you have actually understood mine. You cite a few people who think as you do, but I could easily do the same — and the ones I cite would be people like Hooker, Jewel and Cranmer! My point on doctrine is that Anglicans traditionally espouse the faith of primitive Christianity, against the dogmatic innovations of Rome.

    You appear to be unaware of my (admittedly unstated) premise that it was the Anglican Reformation that established the “political” principle of “the national church” free from outside intervention by other ecclesiastical entities. (See the Articles of Religion, for the “classical Anglican” position, esp., XIX, XX, XXI, XXXVII — this is the “peculiar polity” to which I am referring.) This polity was carried over to the founding of the Episcopal Church, which was not, at the beginning, “in Communion” with the Church of England, at least as we use the term today — as the first American bishops and anyone they consecrated or ordained were forbidden to function anywhere in English domains! Rather the nascent Episcopal Church was seen by England as a new and independent church, for a new and independent nation.

    It is the “Anglican Communion” that is a relatively recent invention. And moves to make it conciliar are directly contrary to its founding ethos of independent, autonomous churches. That is not to say they are wrong; many share that view. But it does mark a change — or why would people be proposing it?

    • Fr. Jonathan says:

      I’m afraid I don’t understand what you’re saying. Is there such a thing as “Anglican polity” or isn’t there? Is that polity doctrine or not? If it is not, then how can it be argued that Anglicanism can or should “offer” it to the wider Christian world?

      The idea of a national church is certainly a part of classical Anglicanism, but it is hardly uniquely so. Moreover, the idea of Anglican “polity” being a notion of complete and utter autonomy is something that would have been foreign to the Reformers and the Divines, including Cranmer, Jewel, and Hooker. Their very basis for understanding the Church of England as an independent, self-governing body was itself gathered from the Scriptures and the Fathers, from which they made their appeal and on which grounds they accepted things like the ancient creeds as being legitimate and true expressions of the faith. It is entirely on the grounds of doctrine that these men staked their claim to be part of the One Church and evaluated the claims of other Christians, such as Roman Catholics and continental Reformers, to the same thing. Many years later, at the founding of the Episcopal Church, the same sort of evaluation takes place, albeit in a cruder form. The Episcopal Church is not immediately in communion with the Church of England and yet does immediately make clear its intention to share the same faith and doctrine as the Church of England. It is on this point that the ability to enter into communion is eventually worked out.

      Finally, just to clarify, I do not suggest that Anglicanism has been practicing conciliarity throughout these many centuries and that it is only recently that we have lost the thread, so to speak. As Michael Nazir-Ali has said, we have been dodging conciliarity for the better part of a hundred and fifty years as the Anglican Communion has matured. One can argue that the roots of this reticence to conciliarity are in fact in the way that the English Reformation took place. I believe there is some truth in that. Nevertheless, if the central claim of Anglicanism is, as you say, to “espouse the faith of primitive Christianity,” then a fully realized Anglicanism must rediscover the importance of conciliarity if we are to be consistent. Classical Anglicanism may not have been born in a context of conciliarity but neither does it dismiss conciliarity. The fact of the acceptance by Anglican divines of the first four ecumenical councils is proof of that. Nor does saying that Councils can err, and have erred, make one anti-conciliar. What makes a council’s word true is the fact that it is consistent with what the Holy Spirit has revealed in Holy Scripture. I can’t imagine that even the highest view of conciliarity held by the most ardent Orthodox would not be open to receiving that observation.

      • Dear Jonathan,
        I may be being to subtle for my own good, but I’m making a distinction about doctrine, which I’m defining rather narrowly, but with reference to the the traditional distinctions of “doctrine, discipline and worship.” Hence in my original post I highlighted doctrine and worship — and by the way I didn’t mean to suggest we don’t have our own “angles” on some doctrines; just that I think most of us (as most of the early Anglican fathers) would say they can be found in the primitive sources and aren’t original to us.

        But I see the polity matter — as a communion of autonomous churches, not under a common canon law (as the Eastern Orthodox are… hence our main difference from them as a political reality, though they too are “national churches”) — as one of discipline rather than doctrine. There is an intellectual component, of course, but I see it more as a concept than a doctrine. As I say in the second ‘graph of my short “thought” it is “an idea” — a modus vivendi that I’m getting at as peculiarly (and I think that is short of “uniquely”) Anglican. (I would similarly suggest, and offer for your consideration, that our approach to Scripture is also not so much a “doctrine” as a “Way of working…” It is no wonder we gave rise to the “Methodists”!) But my point really is that the structuring of the Anglican Communion up to recently has allowed for local developments and slow reception — which is much undercut by a synodical conciliarity (which appears to be the trend advocated by some.)

        Where I depart from your final ‘graph above is in my not seeing the necessity of recovering an ancient conciliarity for consistency with ancient doctrine. Even the Jerusalem Council, though it dealt with doctrine, ended with an essentially disciplinary action, and apart from this the Apostolic Church was not notably “conciliar.” As to the early Councils, the Caroline Divines were careful to limit adherence to the “doctrinal pronouncements” of those Councils, and felt quite at liberty to ignore the political aspects — as indeed they must if they are to ignore the Emperor across the channel! Classical Anglicanism simply does not look to conciliarity as an essential, but as a sometimes useful tool, the results of which a “true church” is always free to disregard when a Council “errs.” This is precisely why the autonomy of each church supersedes any decision of a “higher synod.” Of course, I’m quite willing to acknowledge that “lower synods” can make mistakes too… but I am more trusting that the errors can be worked out in time, rather than being “settled” by some superior synod, which may introduce errors of its own.

        Hope this helps elaborate my original intent, which was a really rather off-hand “thought”!

  2. You know, this is the kind of crap that irritates a lot of laity. Tell me Father, just how many angels can dance on the head of a pen? For me, Tobias’ point was the comment further in:

    It is a model of service and fellowship, of work with rather than power over, commended by Christ himself as a model of churchly governance. And it is when do we move forward with this in a concrete and practical way? How about now?

    • Fr. Jonathan says:

      You ask, “How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?” To which I am to reply… how, exactly? By explaining that angels are immaterial and so the answer is impossible? By generally sharing my displeasure with clichés? By telling you the answer is “17” or some other random number?

      You see, the problem is that while I have attempted to make an argument, based on evidence and logic, you have simply launched an attack. When you say, “This is the kind of crap that irritates a lot of laity,” I have absolutely no idea what you mean, nor am I intended to know what you mean. You’re just saying it, which may make you feel better, but it doesn’t further the conversation in any distinct way.

      I have no problem with you disagreeing with what I have written. In fact, I would encourage constructive critique. It’s one of the ways that I grow in my own faith and practice, by having others question my presuppositions in a constructive manner. This is why I appreciate Br. Tobias’ work and spend a lot of time on his blog, even though I often disagree strongly with his conclusions. Nevertheless, he presents his thoughts with clarity, in an effort to be logical, and he always seems willing to engage in genuine debate.

      So please, I encourage you, make an argument that challenges what I have said here. I really mean that. But if you just want to rant, I would suggest going to other, more suitable corners of the world wide web.

  3. I just figured I would leave my two cents. Take of it what you will. I was baptized Episcopal and lived agnostic until I enrolled in a Jesuit Catholic university and decided to go back to the Church after some changes occurred in my life. I would sometimes go to Roman Catholic mass and I would sometimes go to Episcopal mass (sometimes student masses and sometimes at a local church). I would also come back home (I went to school and lived in Louisiana but I’m from Georgia) and attend Episcopal mass.

    I say this because after seeing the way that Roman Catholic mass is done and seeing a more or less “kinda high” church service in the Episcopal church I look at the “low” church way of doing things and I feel that we throw the baby out with the bath water so to speak. One of the beautiful things about attending mass is the ritual and the formality. It’s a sign of respect to God. Additionally, it is a link to our past as a Church, not just as Anglicans, but Catholics before. That being said, I feel myself having rather liberal views towards acceptance of others within Church doctrine. I like the idea of gays getting married and ordained. I like the idea of female priests. I do not like the idea of a priest with a goatee in flip flops and jean shorts referring to people in the bible as “dude” during mass.

    The doctrinal point is this: The Book of Common Prayer and the Bible are more or less the doctrine of the Church. The reason for this is because the Bible is of course scripture. But also because the BCP unites us as Anglicans in common means of worshiping Christ. There is something kind of neat about that. At the same time though, when it was originally introduced, the Church was much more “high church” than it is today. I feel that although our job is not to judge or ostracize but rather to accept and love, at the same time we need to stop being afraid of hurting anyone’s feelings. I am seriously considering converting to Catholicism because that church at least takes a stand on issues, be they right or wrong. I feel with Anglicanism it’s like having a friend that always agrees with you no matter what. That isn’t a friend. The friend of a Church should love you and care for you but also challenge you and lead you to truth. Currently, there is no truth in form or result with this church besides some tenants of the bible.

    With churches leaving the communion and all of this infighting, for someone like me this is irritating. It disappoints me that as Anglicans we spend more tie fighting each other about whether gay people should be married (when both people in the conversation are straight for that matter) than we do actually helping others. What this church needs is some form in terms of ritual and manner that is common throughout. That way, if you have a problem with gays getting married, you don’t have to change what your mass is like. It will be the same at the no-gay-marriage-Anglican-church across the street. This church also needs a clearly defined social justice stance and mission. With all this pent up energy that we spend sniping at each other at meetings and on the internet, we could actually do something positive with it. If you think about it, Christ did not shy away from conflict but rather brought about peace and left negative atmosphere’s in a more positive air. The Communion instead, takes an interesting framework and an interesting and refreshingly positive stance towards reason and warps it into a negative, debate weary, DMZ.

    I thought part of what made us unique was that we looked at people and the church with a balance of tradition, reason, and compassion. The issue that this church has is it fails to use both. We have “high church” with it’s basis on tradition and older theological reasoning with a smattering of compassion. Then we have the “low church” with little tradition, a basis on compassion, and new age spiritualist reasoning in it’s theology. Both are unpalatable. There has to be some discipline in there somewhere. God did not just flip a switch and go from hard nose to softy in the span of a testament. It’s the same God.

    If the Church never has a doctrine but allows any and everyone to have their own very special beliefs than that means no one actually goes to church together. They enter that church not on common grounds with the other parishioners but isolated. Now you don’t have just one church serving 50 people. You have 50 churches serving 50 people. At that point, we may as well get rid of churches and sell “Worship at Home Altar Kits” so you don’t have to leave the house. I guess one of the main doctrinal ideas that actually does seem to exist here is that we all must be argumentative.

    This doesn’t mean that I dislike this church in the least. I love this church and consider it my own. However, to ignore an issue or to simply forgive without actually addressing is twice the sin. This church has always had so much potential and it could go so much farther if we only focused for ten minutes to do so. We offer something that you don’t see in other denominations. We offer you the chance to think critically and ask questions, to be as accepting as you please, but we are still all one faith, we are still all one church. That is valuable but it does us no good if we take that inch we’re given and make a mile with it.

    I don’t know if any of this makes any sense. Y’all may think (and maybe rightfully so) that I am an idiot for my stance here. As I said before, I don’t have a ton of experience in the church. I’m also only 22, and I know I have a lot left to learn about life too. I would be thoroughly interested in y’all’s views on this and after reading both of y’all I did like what both had to say. I just don’t think that you can’t have one without the other. Thank you for your time, I hope this wasn’t too incoherent.

    • Fr. Jonathan says:


      Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I am impressed with your desire to engage so carefully with your faith. You say a lot of things here, and I’m not sure that I totally follow all of it, but I definitely share your desire for reverence in worship and your understanding that the Church needs to be clear about what she teaches. In many places in the western world, Anglicanism really has become captive to culture and the content has been flushed. But that does not mean that there is no content, just that we are living at a time when that content is highly challenged and when, sadly, many Anglicans have not been given adequate teaching about their faith. I know that all of the infighting in the Communion is frustrating, but I want to encourage you to persevere, as anywhere else you go, including Rome, will be replete with the same kind of problems. Rome looks great on paper, but there are seismic shifts happening in its practice. This is what happens in human, fallible institutions, even if they are rooted in divine, infallible revelation. It’s great that you see the Bible and the BCP as authorities. Give yourself to their teaching and they will lead you to Jesus. It’s in Him that we find rest.

  4. Father Jonathan,
    My earlier comments were based on a level of frustration with my perception that what Br. Tobias placed before us was a quick, call to action that could restructure the Anglican Communion based more on our polity and the need to be unique, The Episcopal Church moreso than perhaps any others. The opening line was not designed to get you to answer, though I know you know that, but rather to discuss the call to action. Apparently I have failed to make that clear. At this point to continue to debate without any clear action on behalf of the Anglican Communion is going to at best, place TEC (and the rest of the communion) at grave risk. We (cllectively as a church) are focused on the worng issues and that is because GAFCON/FCA/alphabet soup wnats/likes it that way AND they know our propensity to talk eveyrhting and analyze everything to death. I thought Br. Haller was placing something out there for discussion and movement and I perceived your resposne to pull it back into the realm of “polite discussion”. If I have missed your point sorry, but the time for action has got to be now — otherwise the pieces we will be picking up will be our own.

  5. Andrew W says:

    I can’t speak for Michael personally, but perhaps I can speak for his position.

    Given the question “Is Anglicanism good, valuable, and worth striving for?”, the answer would be “Yes”. This sounds like agreement with Fr Johnathan’s position, until one adds “Until it’s not”.

    My understanding (which might be mistaken) is that Roman Catholic doctrine teaches that the Roman Catholic denomination is itself doctrinally fundamental to the salvation plan of God. In contrast, a “Sydney Evangelical Anglican” (for want of a better descriptor) considers the Anglican denomination, and indeed any denomination, as a tool of the gospel. Like a church building or a copy of the bible, it has great value as long as it is in good shape to carry out its purpose. And like any tool, it may by time or misadventure cease to be fit for its purpose, at which point it should be repaired or replaced.

    This also deals with the question of “If Anglicanism is not the ideal, should you not create something else?”. The obvious response is “There’s no ideal this side of heaven” and “Creating a new denomination is a lot of effort – effort which is parallel to rather than fundamental to the work of the gospel – and thus it’s foolish to discard a ‘good enough’ tool in pursuit of mythical perfection.”.

    This also addresses Haller’s comment: Anglicanism doesn’t need to offer something unique to be valuable; it just needs to offer Truth. That another organisation uses a slightly or significantly different structure to present the same Truth is not a cause for concern. But if we instead seek to preserve structure and don’t care so much about content? Then the tool has become the goal, and thus broken.

    Too much emphasis on “What is Anglicanism?” becomes navel gazing. The more valuable question to debate is “How can we use Anglicanism for the gospel?”.

    • Fr. Jonathan says:

      Thank you for your comments, Andrew, and for addressing the second example from my post, which has kind of gotten lost in the shuffle.

      I think you are probably accurately reflecting Dr. Jensen’s position, based on the quotes above, though I admit that I’m extrapolating a great deal from a small set of quotes. Still, it has seemed to me in general that the Sydney approach, if one can call it that, is to view Anglicanism merely as a tool for sharing the gospel, nothing more or less. If this is truly the nature of Anglicanism, than it can be discarded as soon as it has outlived its usefulness. It is a means rather than an end.

      However, I beg to differ about the nature of Anglicanism. I do not believe it is merely a denominational structure but rather a comprehensive way of approaching the Christian faith. And within that way, there are particularities that are essential for receiving the gospel. In other words, if Anglicanism truly sets forth the gospel, than we cannot simply say that it is a matter of indifference whether one holds to the teaching that Anglicanism espouses. The difference between Anglicanism and Presbyterianism, for instance, is not simply a matter of superficial structure. We don’t teach and believe the same things, which means that at the very least, one of us is presenting the gospel in a less than accurate way. Now, the number of actual differences may be minimal, but that does not mean they aren’t important. And the fact that so many Anglicans today are unfamiliar with the particulars of their own tradition and unaware of any difference with other traditions just goes to show how far we have strayed from Anglicanism’s roots.

      • Andrew W says:

        “We don’t teach and believe the same things, which means that at the very least, one of us is presenting the gospel in a less than accurate way. Now, the number of actual differences may be minimal, but that does not mean they aren’t important.”

        I think this gets to the heart of the issue. I don’t believe that there is one “best” denomination. I’m committed to the gospel, not to Anglicanism, and don’t agree that that an Anglican expression of Church is inherently uniquely better (or worse) than another. My loyalty is first to the gospel, secondly to my local congregation (which is Anglican), and thirdly to the institution and its practices. If I moved to a new town, I would seek out a “Christian” church, not an “Anglican” church (though I’d be well pleased if they were one and the same).

        Anglicanism is like a house. Uncorrupted, it’s a good house. I harbour no illusion that it’s somehow the best house that there could ever be, nor am I foolish enough to think that such a goal is attainable. I could live in a different house, but that would involve swapping one set of benefits and drawbacks for another, and if I spend all my time changing houses I’ll never get anything useful done. I am proud of my house, and value it, but it’s not “the” house.

        And I value it for its house-ness. Some people seem to think that as long as the facade is right, all houses are the same. Far better to live in a different house than in a rusty tin shed with a “right-looking” cardboard face. Or in a house that still looks the same but has been eaten through by termites.

        Anglican is a man-made expression of biblical principles. I am loyal to the principles over the expression. The decline of the global Anglican church saddens me because the decline of the church has gone hand-in-hand with the decline of the principles it once embodied. I fully support those who want the Anglican church whole – but only if they are “gospel first, Anglican second”.

  6. Pingback: Debating Anglicanism

  7. Joshua says:


    You state that “the the Sydney approach, if one can call it that, is to view Anglicanism merely as a tool for sharing the gospel, nothing more or less.” I thought that Michael Jensen was responding to this and is encourage Gen X clergy to not be embarrassed by Anglicanism.
    Please allow me to quote what he said in his talk:

    “What is an Anglican identity, that we have it or that we might lose it or that we might give it away or that we might ignore it? Part of the ID crisis is that we have forgotten how to answer these questions?
    Of course to be Anglicans means at the base level is to have a historic link to the C of E, but not merely formally in terms of structure but also in terms of substance.
    But what is this substance that we receive from our link to the C of E?
    1. This church is a Biblical Church – it submits to the authority of the Bible, in its formularies, in its traditions and its practices. The Bible is to be read in the vernacular, so people can understand it and respond in faith; the Bible needs to be expounded in the church. It says the Bible alone is where you find out how to be saved.
    2. This church is a Creedal Church – a church which reads the Bible through the creeds of the Ancient church. It is an orthodox church.
    3. This church is a Sacramental Church – remember Christ in the two sacraments, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper as signs of God’s grace for sinners.
    4. This church is a liturgical church – Anglicanism understands the importance of thinking theologically and carefully about what we do when we meet. Especially when we pray together and it understands the need to do this collectively, that we don’t just do what is right in our own eyes.
    5. This church is a parochial church – we have parishes, the action is in the local church, the denomination exists to support the local parish church.
    6. This church is an Episcopal church – Anglicans have never thought of their version of church order was the only possible one (three fold order of ministry), however we recognise the benefit of having the office of Bishop. The local church is not independent of sister churches but a part of a fellowship of churches.
    7. This church is a rational church – The Anglican version of Christianity has never sought to hide or protect itself from the hardest of hard questions. This has always been an intellectually rigorous faith. It has always been robustly intellectual in the best sense for the purpose of defending the faith and reaching others.
    8. This church is missional – Anglicanism is and has always been a great missionary faith. The history of the Anglican Church in its Evangelical expression is of great personal and financial sacrifice in the name of missionary endeavour. It has always prayed missionary prayers; it is massively ambitious in seeing everyone in this country may hear the gospel.
    Al l of these markers stem from a particular theological conviction/framework – on the one hand, the pervasiveness, the presence and the power of sin in human life and on the other hand, the utter dependence of human beings on the gracious act of God in Jesus Christ. Anglicanism is reformed in other words, it is a Reformed faith.
    What Reformed Evangelical would not want such a heritage? This Anglican identity has sustained many non-Anglican evangelicals for many years in their evangelical convictions and it has sustained us in our evangelical convictions for many years. But we have come to the fork in the road. We need to nurture our Anglican ID so it will continue to nurture us
    What will this mean?”

    Michael then goes on to talke about what he thinks it doesn’t mean and then what it does mean.

    I trust this is of help in these discussions.

    • Fr. Jonathan says:

      Joshua, thank you for posting this. If you were at this conference, you probably know more about Dr. Jensen’s ideas than I do. I appreciate that he is encouraging people not to give up on Anglicanism, even to celebrate the merits of Anglicanism as a way of being Evangelical. The problem that I see here is that in framing the conversation this way, Anglicanism is still left as something expendable, as a way of being Evangelical that might be good for some but not good for others, rather than as a comprehensive way of understanding the Christian faith that should be commended to all. My point is that if Anglicanism has actual doctrinal content that differs from that of others, then we have to either celebrate that or flee from Anglicanism. It is next to worthless if it is simply a way. It is the way, or else it is no way.

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