Why Anglican?

From the Dean

A regular article written by Phillip Jensen in his role as Dean of Sydney at St Andrew's Cathedral.

Originally Published:
3rd October 2008

Tagged: anglicanism

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It is a strange phenomenon when your friends and enemies agree about you. But Sydney Anglicans enjoy this peculiarity. Neither friends nor enemies think we believe in Anglicanism.

Part of the reason is that Anglicanism is itself a strange phenomenon. Not even Anglicans agree about what it is. It can be defined sociologically or confessionally.

Described sociologically, it is the religion of the English people and their worldwide descendants. Anglicanism was, and still is, the national Church of England. So Anglicanism is the worldwide organization that has grown out of the national Church of England.

On this understanding, whatever the Church in England does or believes is Anglican. Similarly, the descendents of the English, scattered abroad as a result of Britain's erstwhile Empire, determine what is Anglican by whatever they do or believe. Sociological Anglicanism is about belonging not believing. You belong irrespective of what you believe or what you do.

So it is an irrelevance whether such a church departs from basic Christian teaching. Sociological Anglicanism does not even have to be Christian—just English. This gives modern Australians very little reason to either join or belong.

Anglican Christians have never believed in the sociological Anglicanism. We have always been Confessional Anglicans. We are Anglicans because we profess the Anglican beliefs of the Book of Common Prayer and the 39 Articles of Religion. These include the great creeds of the ancient worldwide church (the Apostles, Nicene and Athanasian Creeds).

The Prayer Book and 39 Articles of Anglicanism come from a particular historical context—the struggle of Thomas Cranmer in the sixteenth century Protestant Reformation. The Prayer Book underwent several minor editions before taking its final form in the seventeenth century. From 1662 till today it, and the 39 Articles, stand as the one touchstone of genuine Anglicanism.

There is no doubt what the Prayer Book and 39 Articles meant. The Oxford Professor Diarmard MacCullouch's acclaimed biography of Thomas Cranmer details precisely his beliefs. W. H. Griffith Thomas's commentary on the 39 Articles “The Principles of Theology” expounds their meaning. “The Tutorial Prayer Book” written last century by Charles Neil and J. M. Willoughby gives detailed explanation of every part of the Book of Common Prayer.

The original chaplains to the colony of Botany Bay professed belief in the Protestant Reformation as the one true Anglican theology. Sydney's Anglicans have continued to confess the same faith ever since. We are Anglicans today not because of sociology but because of our confession. We joined and remain Anglicans because we confess Anglican theology.

But such a set of beliefs makes us relaxed about some of the denominational distinctives that sociological Anglicans hold dear. They think that we are so relaxed that we do not believe in Anglicanism. They are angry because we continue to practice beliefs that they have long ago renounced. They are angrier still because we will not accept new beliefs and practices that are contrary to our confession.

Paradoxically we are so relaxed about denominational distinctives, that some of our non-Anglican Christian friends also doubt our belief in Anglicanism.

We welcome as brothers and sisters in Christ, people of different historical traditions but the same basic beliefs. We have more in common with them than with unbelieving members of sociological Anglicanism.

Evangelical Anglicans play a leading role in all manner of non-Anglican Christian ministries—from the Bible Society to the Scripture Union, from the Australian Fellowship of Evangelical Students to the Katoomba Conventions. Not all the students at Moore College are Anglican or training for Anglican ministry. We apply no pressure upon them to become Anglican. That is why some of our friends do not think we are Anglican. For we do not promote Anglicanism but happily share in our common Christian faith.

We sometimes forget to commend confessional Anglicanism to people. Yet it is worth saying that Anglicanism is our choice and that we believe it is a good choice. Being a confessional Anglican is a privilege and blessing for which we are thankful to God and hope others will enjoy.

Confessional Anglican theology rightly captures the heart of the Biblical message. It is very clear about the central truths of God and the way of salvation. It does not try to codify everything in the Bible and so it allows an appropriate level of liberty on issues of Christian freedom. Nevertheless, it clearly condemns false teaching and practice—the kind of false teaching and practice that sociological Anglicans now hold dear as genuine Anglicanism!

Out of confessional Anglican theology comes world mission. For it expresses a concern not only for the glory of God but also the salvation of mankind. This theological concern for world mission is the driving force behind our Diocesan mission.

Here then are two of the reasons for local Christians to become Sydney Anglicans: Theology and Mission.