by Alastair Sterne
December 23, 2012
7 min read
In my last post I discussed some of the Misconceptions of Anglicanism. Beyond the stereotypes, caricatures and general misconceptions there are still other concerns that need to be addressed. It is undeniable that Anglicanism carries baggage, and weighty baggage at that. As I mentioned in my post, Why Anglicanism?, some consider Anglicanism a dirty word. That’s the nice way of saying it. While I believe Anglicanism is beautiful and worth fighting for, this disdain is not entirely without warrant. Given the crisis within Anglicanism in North America, one cannot be naively optimistic about the potential of Anglicanism. It also comes with danger.
“Don’t Anglicans ‘progressively’ blur the lines on the biblical perspective on sexuality both in marriage and even in ordination?” the questioning goes, and “Don’t they deny the physical resurrection?” One could even object, “Anglicanism denies Biblical authority and inspiration!” To make matters worse, much of the controversy within North American Anglicanism began right here in Vancouver. So, many of these objections aren’t without warrant. They’re unfortunately true in many circumstances.
Now, in response to the caricature painted by such questions and concerns, I would confidently say ‘no,’ this is not truly Anglicanism. It is a distortion at best, and at worst it is heresy. These sort of distortions of Christianity abandon the heart of Anglicanism and the intention of the English Reformers. It is undeniable that there are people who use the name “Anglican” to promote some of these views, but they are certainly only Anglican in name and not in their theology or values. Most of all they are but a small anomaly in respect to the worldwide Anglican church—the largest global denomination with more than 70 million members—which is deeply committed to Biblical Orthodoxy.
Yet since we exist within this anomaly, it is not enough to simply reclaim the name Anglican. These problems exist and muddle what comes to mind when one hears the name “Anglican.” So it is very important to recognize the challenge in identifying with the Anglican church especially in Vancouver. The danger is this: people may make assumptions about what you actually are, and what you believe. They may assume, positively or negatively, that you are something other than you are.
Unfortunately, to say that you’re Anglican (or that you belong to an Anglican church) necessitates a qualifier about what kind of Anglican you are. For example, we will be a part of the Anglican Network in Canada (ANIC) and not the Anglican Church of Canada (ACC). But any sort of qualification doesn’t have to be a negative thing—it can actually become a great opportunity to preach the gospel. To qualify what kind of Anglican you are forces you to deeply know what you believe, and what you don’t believe. It requires a certain level of maturity about your faith, and knowledge of the essentials that make any faith truly Christian. Let’s be honest about this too, its not like other denominational affiliations don’t come with disclaimers, “I’m a Mennonite, but not the buggy and bonnet kind” or “I’m a Charismatic, but with my seat-belt on.”
What does this all mean for St. Peter’s Fireside?
First and foremost we are a church that is about the gospel, a church devoted to the Crucified Risen Son of God: Jesus Christ, who is our Lord and Saviour. We are first devoted disciples who follow Jesus. We are Christians before we are Anglicans (which is precisely how J.I. Packer puts it). Anglicanism is an expression of our Christian faith, but our faith is in Jesus.
It also means that we will define ourselves by what we are, before we define ourselves by what we are not. It is all too easy to talk about the pitfalls and shortcomings of other groups. I have been in these sorts of conversations, and I have left knowing what the person didn’t agree with while having no idea what they actually stood for. We don’t want to be known primarily for what we oppose. Simply by stating the key theological truths that are our glue will set us apart from those who have abandoned such truth. For example, to claim that the Bible is the inspired, authoritative and normative Word of God sets the tone of what kind of Church, and what kind of Anglicans we are. To state that Jesus really did get out of the grave, and that salvation is found through him and the gospel alone refutes any notion of spiritual resurrection or universal salvation.
Yes, we will have to say what we don’t believe at times, but hopefully overtime we will be known for what we do believe. Having to stand up against what we disbelieve will require boldness and confidence. The reality is that belonging to an Anglican church in Vancouver means belonging to a denomination that has split. We will be a part of the Anglican Network in Canada (ANIC) which is growing, theologically sound, and deeply committed to the gospel. But for now we are a minority in comparison to the Anglican Church of Canada (ACC), where many stand in contrast to what we believe and value. That’s okay. It’s really nothing new in the city of Vancouver. The overwhelming majority disagree with us anyways. What this forces us to do, and this is a very good thing, is to lock arms with the church at large regardless of their denomination. We also lock arms with the vast majority of the global Anglican Church who believe in the central truths of the gospel. We can be unified over the gospel. This doesn’t mean we have to lose the unique contributions of Anglicanism, but it does push us towards a bigger vision of unity and ecclesial cooperation. It will kill any sectarian nature in us. This is why we are a part of the interdenominational C2C Network. We are gospel-centered before we are Anglicans.
While it is important to be known for what we believe, I think its even more crucial to be known for how we believe what we believe. All too often discourse ends in arguments and division. While division is sometimes necessary, that never permits space for arrogance or hatred. When we oppose other views, we should never speak disparagingly of those we are opposing. We must always be people of prayer for those we disagree with, even for those who hurt us and speak badly about us. We must always approach theology, especially touchy areas of theology, with humility.
Yes, Anglicanism carries baggage. But Anglicanism itself does not have inherent dangers. Given the distortions that exist within Vancouver, however, I would more quickly identify as a Christian that believes in the gospel before I emphasize that the expression of my faith is in the Anglican tradition. But when you get through the clutter and get back to the heart of Anglicanism, it carries profound beauty. I believe the best way to respond to the “dangers of Anglicanism” is to be known for what we believe and how we believe it. Rather than wave the Anglican flag, I want to be known for our love for Jesus, our faithfulness to his gospel, and the humility that is birthed when a people stop focusing on themselves and start focusing on Him. But obviously I am convinced that this very posture is true Anglicanism. Simultaneously, we must never be afraid to say what we believe in contrast to other church’s that are going astray. But lets not do it in a way that is pompous, or in a way that makes it about us v.s. them. Rather, lets disagree in a way that points to Jesus and the truth of gospel.