Why I Stay

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.” BiblePrayer Book, Formularies, HomiliesBishops. 

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.

Miles Smith IV

Miles Smith is a historian of the American South and the Atlantic World. He has taught at Hillsdale College, Regent University, and Texas Christian University. His research interests and his writing focus on intellectual life and religion in the Nineteenth Century United States and Europe. He lives in Hillsdale, Michigan.

'Why I Stay' have 13 comments

  1. June 16, 2023 @ 12:41 pm Eutychus

    Seems worth mentioning that in an essay about why you’re a particular type of Christian, you never mentioned Jesus.


    • June 17, 2023 @ 9:55 am A

      He mentions God multiple times. Don’t you believe that Jesus is God?


  2. June 17, 2023 @ 9:44 am Alice C. Linsley

    What does a “loyal” Protestant look like? Very much like the general population of the ACNA. It is not surprising that you are staying in that jurisdiction. The initial protestors venerated the Virgin Mary, practiced oracular confession, and read the Church Fathers. It is likely that they wouldn’t recognize today’s Protestants as their spiritual descendants.

    Also, other than the ACNA there are Anglican options to the Roman Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodoxy.


    • June 19, 2023 @ 5:04 pm Greg

      Thank you Alice for your characteristic wisdom and insight. There are indeed many Anglican options apart from the ACNA ( although despite the current hiccups, ACNA has much to commend it and may the Lord continue to bless that province). For those wanting to retain membership in GAFCON, but not via the ACNA, there is still the Church of Nigeria North American Mission (CONNAM) and the Continuing Evangelical Episcopal Communion).
      For those who feel called to the “classical Anglican ” way there is the Orthodox Anglican Communion. Then there are the various jurisdictions descended from the Congress of Saint Louis such as the Anglican Joint Synods Churches “G-3” on the Anglo- Catholic side and the United Episcopal Church in North America & the Reformed Anglican Church on the svangelical side. Plenty of options to be able to prayerfully discern. God’s blessings.


  3. June 17, 2023 @ 6:55 pm Columba Silouan

    Since Tradition is mentioned so much here, it would help everyone to read this recent posting. It’s truly magnificent! Should be read by all Eucharistic Christians everywhere regardless of jurisdictions:


    The Communion of Tradition. This is as good as anything C.S. Lewis has ever written.

    Personally, I believe a person can hold to Father Freeman’s perspective above and remain an Anglican who engages in “Penitential Activism” a la Ephraim Radner. ALL churches are a mess right now, doctrinal pure or no. Churches either have problems with beliefs or praxis. Very rare to find a parish healthy in both areas. Might as well make things better where you are, then to be a gyrovague and run around!

    Going to Orthodoxy is an option for some people truly called to do so, but some Orthodox converts end up returning to Anglicanism, too.

    Saint Benedict’s call to Stability, and having a Rule of Life helps in these matters. It sounds like the Author is sticking to his, and that’s commendable.

    The ACNA still has The Reformed Episcopal Church within, and other great Dioceses and Parishes. It will be okay.

    Bloom where you’re planted until God calls you elsewhere.

    The ACNA is worth a deep commitment, even though it is a mess.

    So is Eastern Orthodoxy. And Orthodoxy is also faced with colossal messes and challenges right now.

    The world needs both, and good Roman Catholics and Anglican Catholics as well, and throw in good Lutherans while we’re at it.

    Blessings in Christ!


    • June 19, 2023 @ 3:40 pm Rhonda C. Merrick

      Hear, hear!


    • June 19, 2023 @ 4:45 pm Greg

      Columbia, very well said.

      Eastern Orthodoxy, Oriental Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism, Old Catholicism, Protestantism ( from confessional Lutherans at one end of the spectrum all the way through to Pentecostalists and Non-Denoms at the other end) and Anglicanism are all a mess because all these expressions of Christianity are composed of fallen sinners just like me. Best to bloom where we are planted and seek to grow closer to each other by growing to our blessed Lord and pray that He would hasten the day of His second Advent.

      Thank you for the excellent article by Fr Freeman.
      God’s blessings.


  4. June 18, 2023 @ 1:19 am Wesley Mcgranor

    More shattered Protestantism with ideological subterfuge as answers. This has been happening for a couple decades now with laity has it not?


  5. June 19, 2023 @ 11:06 am Holly Leven

    ACNA, like all denominations, is plagued by the fact that it is populated by humans. All humans are fallen, sinful creatures. Running from ACNA to another denomination is simply running from one heated frying pan to another. Better to stay, pray, and support those leaders (whether bishops, priests, or deacons who remain faithful to the Nicene, Apostles, and Athanasian Creeds and The 39 Articles.


  6. June 19, 2023 @ 5:50 pm Eric Dunes

    Thanks for sharing some helpful thoughts on why to stay. Reminds me of how thankful I am for the REC (The Reformed Episcopal Church) we found in our city!


  7. June 28, 2023 @ 6:32 am Raleigh Franklin Seay

    The problem with Protestantism is that there are more than 45,000 different denominations, each different from the others, constantly splitting, and with no central authority. The Catholic Church has its issues, as do all organizations that include human beings, but she has 2000 years of history. Plus, Jesus said he would protect his Church from error in faith and morals. Like Peter, I say, “Where else will we go?”


    • October 2, 2023 @ 5:01 am Petras

      He lost me on loyalty to protestantism and not to Anglicanism. Protestantism did not birth the AC, the AC goes back 2nd century where Protestantism back to 16th century. To see us only through the 16th century and ignore the first 1600 years is not a goodway to do this. While we certainly accept Protestant principles we can’t simple be deduced to just another prot. Denomination.Anglicanism is uniquely different from the RC and other Protestant denominations. I did join another Protestant denomination but a communion that is catholic and ancient.


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