Have you found yourself in a conversation where you’ve been asked to identify what sort of Christian you are or what denomination you belong to?
Whereas once you may have been confident to openly say “I attend an Anglican Church”, is that something we’re still willing (or even proud) to say – especially given the reputation of the Anglican Church in the news these days?
Sometimes when we’re asked to ‘pin our colours to the mast’ the answer “I just follow Jesus” can be refreshingly helpful for someone who’s had a bad experience with a certain denomination. However, at other times it can be positively instructive to clarify exactly what we mean when we say “I attend an Anglican Church.” (I don’t have any wisdom on what is best in each situation, but I’d be keen to hear if you do.)
And if you have ever been to an Anglican Church in another part of Australia, or even in another part of the World, you may have found that their understanding of what it means to be Anglican is quite different to what you feel comfortable with. As we saw in last week’s bulletin letter, a vocal minority of Anglicans leaders around the world have erred in serious ways recently.
So what do we mean when we say “we’re Anglican” at St Thomas’?
Recently Gerard and I set ourselves a little task of reading some theology once a month and meeting to discuss it to keep ourselves sharp and clear. Last month the chapters we read gave an overview of the first nineteen centuries of the Church’s growth and development – the author (Herman Bavink) was writing at the turn of the twentieth century.
Firstly, when we say we’re Anglican we are aligning ourselves with the Western Church – as opposed to the Eastern Church – which is an umbrella term for churches like the Eastern Orthodox and Coptic Churches. These churches are mainly located around the eastern Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Whereas the Western Church emphasises the legal aspects of salvation that come from Christ’s death and resurrection, the Eastern church tends to focus on the mystery of the incarnation and our union with with Christ in life. (Which are both needed!)
Secondly, when we say we’re Anglican we are, as I’m sure you know, defining ourselves as protestants. It was protestants who called for the reform of the Western Church. One of the key issues being who had the right to interpret the Bible. Did final authority lie with the Pope or did the Bible have its own authority derived from its author? From 1545-1563 the Western Church clarified what they believed at the Council of Trent in opposition to these “protestant reformers”. After a rocky start, (King Henry’s motives seemed to be more political than theological), the Church of England under Archbishop Cranmer’s influence was an attempt to restore the church with reformed theology.
And thirdly, when we say we’re Anglican we mean that we are reformed in our theology. While Martin Luther is recognised as spearhead of the reformer, John Calvin was the great protestant reformer who really established reformed theology with his Institutes of the Christian Religion. Put simply to be reformed is to approach salvation from God’s perspective. It has as its starting point the question: “how is God glorified in salvation?” In contrast, Lutherans approach salvation from man’s perspective. It has as its starting point the question: “how can man be saved?”.
So when we say we’re Anglican at St Thomas’ we mean that we place a high emphasis on Christ’s death and resurrection, we hold to the authority of the Bible (and hence we line up behind other faithful Anglican leaders at Gafcon) and we mean that we’re reformed (we are to be concerned about the glory of God in all we say and do).
May God give us a deep appreciation for those who have gone before us and worked these things out as well as the wisdom to know when to simply say “I follow Jesus” and when to pin our colours to the mast (in humility).