Why be Anglican?
Jensen, P 'Why be Anglican?'. The Briefing, issue 19, February 1989, pp. 1-3.
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The reasons for belonging to this denomination or that are often quite personal and even irrational. As Evangelicals, we find it distasteful if someone insists that we should be an Anglican, or a Presbyterian, or a Calythumpian. We know that no denomination has a monopoly on being God’s church, and that no denomination can therefore demand our membership as a matter of obligation.
All the same, most of us belong to some association of churches or other (even if they have the name ‘Independent’)—so why be Anglican? The reasons are, to some extent, personal, and so I’d like to change the question slightly: Why am I an Anglican? For three reasons: personal history, theology, and practice.
One of the chief reasons I am Anglican is my own history. I was born into a family that attended an Anglican church, and was raised going to an Anglican Sunday School. It was the people in that congregation who taught me the ways of the Lord, and through their ministry of God’s word I was converted. It was the Anglican church which nourished my faith, teaching me the word of God and giving me the fellowship of Christian people to encourage me and stir me on to love and good works. And some years later it was the Anglican church that gave me the privilege of theological education at Moore College which enlarged my mind with the great truths of the Scriptures and their implications for my life and ministry.
So I am a thoroughly cultural Anglican: I feel comfortable with the language and style and music and customs and structures of Anglican life. And I am greatly indebted to the many Anglicans who, through this form of Christian fellowship, have contributed so much to my life and training. In this context I was saved, and in this context I was encouraged on to maturity.
However, personal history is not enough to maintain one in Anglicanism. (That would not even be consistent with Anglicanism itself.) Decisions must be made on the basis of the great truths of the gospel, not on personal culture. Thus, I am an Anglican now by choice, not by inheritance, and the choice is one of theology, not culture.
I am an Anglican because Anglican theology is an accurate expression of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Anglican theology is powerful because it does not claim too much. The theological formularies of the Thirty-nine Articles and the Book of Common Prayer are not superimposed over the word of God, but perceive themselves to be only true inasmuch as they reflect what the word of God says.
Furthermore, the services and ceremonies of Anglicanism are seen as being 16th Century expressions of gospel truth rather than absolute expressions of truth that can never be changed. Even within the Thirty-nine Articles there is a godly reticence in tying down each and every doctrinal issue as a basis of fellowship and membership. For example, we are left at liberty on lesser issues such as Sabbatarianism and Millenarianism while being committed to the fundamental issues of the Trinity and salvation.
Yet the strength of the theology is not just in its omissions. Within the Thirty-nine Articles and the liturgical services of the 1662 Prayer Book we have unmistakable declarations of the great doctrines of grace. God is upheld and taught in all his grandeur, both in his being and in his works of creation and salvation. The work of Christ in his death and resurrection for the salvation of mankind is kept clearly focussed, as is the response of repentance and faith engendered by the Spirit of God in the lives of his people. The authors of our theological formularies were clearly converted men/thoroughly versed in the truths of the Scriptures and able to express them with clarity, while denying the alternatives that were current in their day.
There is another reason I am an Anglican and it has to do with the practice of Anglicanism. The structures of Anglicanism that have been established within the diocese of Sydney are such as to make life and ministry a practical reality. The whole system has a concern for honesty, especially in financial dealings. The open government and honest accountability of denominational life encourages trust and reliability.
Furthermore, there is a workable set of weights and balances between the varying members of the denomination:
- Each of the churches has its say in the system by representation at Synod.
- Laymen are well represented in the committees and councils of church and denominational life.
- Ministers are invited to come by their congregations and yet are given tenure (ie. they cannot be threatened or ‘sacked’ by the congregation).
- The denomination ratifies the suitability of ministers for all the churches in the diocese, and yet cannot impose an unwanted minister on a particular congregation.
- Parish Councils retain responsibility for the finances of the church and are free to set the stipend of the ministers of the congregation.
- Churches are responsible for paying for their own ministry, while the diocese is willing and able to be of assistance in the work of the gospel in the church.
The whole complex system looks after the interests of all those involved with a degree of fairness and justice and concern for the distribution of responsibility and power. Thanks to the independence of the local churches and the tenure of ministers within those congregations, the Anglican system allows a maximum of freedom and flexibility of ministry in the local (sometimes multi-cultural) context.
Anglicanism is a form of ministry that is also culturally appropriate for the mainstream Australian context. Much of Australian society and culture has come from Britain. Our forms of government, our justice system, our use of language, our societal traditions, our educational practices-all are inherited from an English pattern. Thus, Anglicanism is a culturally appropriate form of church life within the Australian community. It has wide acceptance in society as an honest organisation, whose dealings are practised with integrity and a concern for the good of the community. It has open access to a large percentage of the community who are willing to nominally associate themselves with this tradition. It enjoys good relationships with schools, hospitals and other government and community organisations. It has the cumulative resources of the last 200 years, in terms of land, buildings, institutions and infrastructure.
In practice, then, Anglicanism is a valuable form of Christian fellowship by which one can minister the gospel to the Australian community. Not everybody should be Anglican, for Anglicanism should not be equated with Christianity.
This is not the only way to be Christian—far from it. It is only one of many good ways in which our Christian faith can be expressed. However, for the theological and practical reasons outlined above, it is a suitable, workable and appropriate expression of Christian life and ministry in the Australian setting.