The controversy between a North American primate and the provincial tribunal regarding another bishop—let’s keep names out of this for now—has caused the most serious constitutional crisis in the life of the Anglican Church in North America to date. It has also caused confusion and consternation among educated and serious laypeople. Conservative rectors and those in holy orders continue to leave for Eastern Orthodoxy or the Roman Catholic Church. Liberals—yes, let’s be honest we have theological liberals and outright heterodox teaching in our denomination—flock to dioceses that act outside the bounds of received doctrines and practices, which we—I think unhelpfully—call Anglican. Put simply, ACNA is an absolute mess, and I cannot blame anyone for wondering if they and their families would be better served by another church body. Why would anyone stay?
I want to answer this question in several ways. First, I want to tell you exactly what I am staying in. Second, I’ll offer a few reasons why I’m staying. So first things first; what am I staying in? I should be honest enough to say I don’t have a particular affection for the ACNA or for Anglicanism. In fact, it’s my very loyalty to bishops and the doctrines, order, practices received through the tradition of the English Reformation that places my loyalty most fundamentally outside the syncretic province that is ACNA and the early 20th Century spiritual aesthetic called “Anglicanism.”
I am staying loyal to Protestantism, which birthed the so-called Anglican tradition as we know it. The legacy of the English Reformation is the most Catholic expression of the Reformed faith, which includes but is not limited to; the solas of Martin Luther, the doctrines of grace articulated by Martin Bucer and John Calvin, the Biblical order of worship created by Thomas Cranmer, and the scriptural rule by bishops sustained by Queen Elizabeth I. The advent of the Churches of England and Ireland as a truly independent Ecclesia Anglicana hierarchically and theologically independent of Rome, led to the introduction of prayer book worship in the vernacular and the development of what we now so imprecisely call Anglicanism. The Protestant Reformation in these lands did not create a spiritual or liturgical aesthetic. It created two churches committed to sustaining Protestant truths. To cease to be Protestant is to cease to be foundationally Anglican. To cease to be Protestant is to cease to be a part of the so-called Anglican tradition. John Henry Newman’s famous quote that “To be deep in history is to cease to be a Protestant” got it completely wrong; to be Protestant Episcopal–my preferred term to describe the tradition birthed out of the Sixteenth Century Church of England and Church of Ireland–is to be deeply in the history of English piety. Newman, interestingly enough, began life as a breathless and enthusiastic Evangelical. Then and now, schwarmerei leads Evangelicals to want a truer tradition; it rarely leads them to actual traditions, but instead to liturgical journeys that are generally driven more by sentiment than by meaningful knowledge of the Bible or even theology. How often does one hear “If I do convert, it really won’t be because of theology.” For those of us who do have an actual “Anglican” theology, it must be Protestant.
I am staying in my diocese more than I am staying in ACNA or “Anglicanism,” because my bishop, my reverend father in God, orders and rules our diocese obedient to the Word of God. He maintains our ordered Biblical worship through the liturgical constitution of all churches that claim the true heritage of the English Reformation: the licensed—1662, 1928, 2019—editions of the Book of Common Prayer, the Formularies and Ordinals annexed to them, and the Book of Homilies. Bishops and dioceses come and go, but these stay, because they take their authority from the inerrant Christian scriptures. My loyalty to tradition is only a loyalty to “tradition in as much as it flows from the Bible.” Bible➔Prayer Book, Formularies, Homilies➔Bishops.
Why am I staying? For me the answer is simple. I am in a good diocese, I have a godly bishop, and the bishop and my rector understand God’s Word and how it relates to the so-called Anglican tradition. I’ve never really had a theological journey. I was raised Presbyterian, taught to take the Bible seriously, and have not rethought much in the way of “theology” since I was catechized. The 39 Articles don’t ask me to believe anything I didn’t already believe, but likewise, they didn’t open churches up to anything I didn’t believe. The Articles historically understood are undoubtedly the most catholic expression of the Reformed faith. If you want them to be something else, it takes a lot of hard work, and most people who want to contrive a non-Protestant “Anglican” tradition generally give up on talking about the articles altogether, preferring instead to talk incessantly of an ephemeral and undefined “tradition” dating back to what they excitedly ensure us are the “earliest traditions of the church”…usually the 1970s. I’ve no interest in staying in a “tradition” that is younger than my parents, and I don’t care enough about “the” “tradition” to make a church membership choice off of it. And I doubt most people outside a certain homeschool, Christian college, or conservative intellectual milieu do either.
People make decisions on churches based on kids, sound bible teaching, etc. And that doesn’t make them any less serious a Christian than the pedant who is insistent on observing Gaudete Sunday. Rejecting Protestant theological identity has actually done a disservice to Anglican churches in the US. The ACNA shrank in the last few years. The only tradition in the US that is currently growing at more than a replacement rate is conservative, Protestant Evangelical churches: non-denoms, some conservative Baptists, etc… So I stay Anglican because I get biblical teaching, biblical church government, historically Protestant worship, and appropriate expressions of catholicity. “Anglican” churches that don’t offer this aren’t really Anglican to begin with. The ACNA has a choice; it can be a serious Protestant church, or it can die. I stay because I don’t think death is an inevitability. I hope I’m right.