Last month, I wrote “Saints, Structures, and Salvation,” a response to some questions posed to Anglicans on Quad Cities Anglican Radio (QCAR) by a Western Rite Orthodox priest, himself a former Anglican. At that time, several people expressed to me wonder at how the hosts of the show did not adequately answer the questions from our tradition. Indeed, as one comment to my essay put it, they seemingly “just rolled over when the questions were posed.”
Apparently, this was a foretaste of things to come.
Anglican No More
Earlier this week, QCAR aired its farewell program, as host Tom Janikowski announced that he had become a layman, is entering new employment, and is being received into the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia. This is, of course, not an isolated incident. Earlier this year, Hank Hanegraaf, better known as the “Bible Answer Man,” converted to Eastern Orthodoxy. Several years ago, the original editor of The North American Anglican did the same. Popular conservative blogger Rod Dreher is a convert to Orthodoxy. Any of us who have been in the Anglican world for any significant amount of time either know or know of numerous people who “swam the Bosphorus,” as it were. In fact, Metropolitan Jonah, the former Primate of the Orthodox Church in America, is himself a convert from Anglicanism.
While it is nothing new to see converts from one Christian body to another, it sometimes seems that traditional, catholic-minded Anglicans are particularly susceptible to the call of the Two One True Churches. I certainly believe that a Christian has a moral responsibility to follow his or her conscience when it comes to ecclesiastical affiliation. Yet it is imperative that one has a fully formed and informed conscience. My experience is that it is rare to find converts who have engaged the actual theological distinctives of the traditions. That is, I find myself questioning how much Anglicanism many of these former Anglicans actually know.
With that in mind, I pose the following questions for would-be converts and the priests and bishops who have care over their souls:
1) How long has it been since you’ve read the whole Bible?
Whenever anyone asks me the differences between Anglicanism and Roman Catholicism or Anglicanism and Eastern Orthodoxy, I reply that it ultimately boils down to authority. As Anglicans, we affirm that Scripture has the ultimate authority (Article VI). All other authority is subject to Scripture, and we can have no “must believe” issues (i.e. dogmas) that are not explicit or provable from Scripture. This is not the case with either Rome or Orthodoxy. For Rome, the Magisterium has ultimate authority. For the East, Holy Tradition (of which Scripture is the most important part) has ultimate authority. That behooves Anglicans to know their bibles well, especially as our Formularies claim that both Rome and the East have “erred, not only in their living and manner of Ceremonies, but also in matters of Faith” (Article XIX). The only way to spot error, especially error in ourselves, is to know the Scriptures intimately. Otherwise, we will be “carried about by every wind of doctrine” (Eph. 4:14).
2) When was the last time you studied the Anglican Formularies?
The classical Book of Common Prayer, Ordinal and Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion are our most important documents outside of Scripture itself. Yet, many Anglicans only use alternative liturgies, have relegated the Articles to mere historic documents, and have never even cracked open the Ordinal. In these cornerstones of post-Reformation Anglicanism, we have the main lens for interpreting Scripture. These are the primary sources for understanding Anglican distinctives. I could easily spend an entire year or two teaching these texts in Sunday School. If we are unfamiliar with our Formularies, we simply do not know Anglicanism in any meaningful way.
3) Who are you reading?
Or watching? Or to whom are you listening? I highly encourage wide and deep reading, but I am often amazed at how little Anglicans read other Anglicans. There is something out of balance if an Anglican’s go-to resources are the Orthodox Study Bible or OrthodoxWiki.com. Anglicans should not be doing all of their reading from Roman Catholics, or generic Evangelicals, or Lutherans either. There is certainly nothing wrong with reading from other traditions, but it is irresponsible for Anglicans to be illiterate of our own theological heritage, especially as clergy. When was the last time you read John Jewell’s Apology for the Church of England? Do you know Richard Hooker’s Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity? Could you name an Anglican text for systematic or dogmatic theology? Do you know J.C. Ryle? C. S. Lewis? Jeremy Taylor? The Oxford Fathers? The Caroline Divines? Peter Toon? Louis Tarsitano? N.T. Wright? The list could go on and on.
For that matter, how much of the Church Fathers have you read? As Anglicans we have historically appealed to the Fathers as much as the Orthodox or Romans have. In fact, in making the case for Reformation, we often appealed to the Fathers. The Book of Homilies is arguably the most Reformation-minded text in our tradition, and the primary non-Scripture sources the homilies cite are from the Fathers.
How about the magisterial Reformers? While not specifically Anglican, it would be foolish to deny the influence of Calvin and Luther on the Anglican tradition. But how many of us have actually read Calvin, Luther, or the other influential Reformers?
Of course, we do not have to be in full agreement with all (or any) of these resources; that is reserved for Scripture only. But it is wise to know the tradition before one abandons it. If you are going to have to renounce something, know what you are actually renouncing.
Making an Informed Decision
As I said in the original essay, Anglicanism is not merely a halfway house from Evangelicalism to Rome or Orthodoxy. We have a deep heritage that has thought deeply about our theology. If we are to have properly formed consciences, we need to know that heritage. Above I mentioned several of the recent converts to Orthodoxy. But I also know many people who converted from Orthodoxy, including those that went from Anglicanism to Orthodoxy and back again. Their stories prove that the grass is not always greener. Rather than looking for the perfect Church, we all ought to look for Truth. Anglicanism has never claimed to be perfect, nor to have everything properly figured out. But we do humbly recognize a need for repentance and reformation, always governed by the Holy Scriptures. Roman and Orthodox ecclesiology forbids them from having that same kind of humility because Scripture is not the final word. And frankly, they can’t both be right.