Yet another definition of what it means to be Anglican

Mark Harris calls our attention to a recent report from the Working Party on Theological Education in the Anglican Communion.

In its report, the party writes: "TEAC participants then traveled to Kandy for a day of interactions at the Theological College of Lanka, the ecumenical college founded jointly to provide theological education together for Anglicans, Methodists, Presbyterians and Baptists. Here TEAC members listened to the challenges facing the college and the special opportunities these offered as well as sharing insights from the four-fold shape of the Anglican Way of being formed by Scripture, shaped by worship, ordered for Communion and directed by God’s mission."

The emphasis is Mark's, and it is well placed. He writes:

One of the reasons I am opposed to a greater layering of the Anglican Communion is that committees or working parties or commissions and such on an Anglican Communion wide level are given to making statements about what it is to be Anglican, statements which go unchallenged and unnoticed, until one day, voila, they become the voice of Anglicanism and more or less institutionalized writ.

Where did the idea "the four-fold shape of the Anglican way" come from, and how did the recitation of the way as one "formed by Scripture, shaped by worship, ordered for Communion and directed by God's mission" come to be determined? Probably in a document of some Commission, or a paper at a meeting of TEAC. But who knows?

The thing is, it doesn't matter where it came from. The notion that there is an Anglican Way is a bit mythological, just as is the notion that there is an Anglican method. In any event we might notice that reason gets the short straw and is not mentioned, worship trumps sacrament (particularly baptism and Eucharist which I hope forms us more than worship), the Communion (shall we read The Anglican Communion?) is something that orders us and God's Mission (which I am all for) gets made a direction rather than a way of being. And notice the verbs: formed, shaped, ordered, directed. Get the picture?

This isn't trivial stuff. The "Instruments of Communion" or Unity or whatever the heck you want to call them were first named in the Virginia Report. That document was never formally accepted by any pan-Anglican body, yet the instruments operate as though they exercise legitimate governing powers (which no one gave them) on behalf of a global "Anglican Church" which does not exist.

On a related matter, there are intelligent and well-intentioned folks in the Episcopal Church who don't like the fact that we tend to do our theology by legislation in a big sprawling elected assembly. They would prefer gathering highly-qualified people to compose balanced and nuanced statements in quiet rooms. That idea gives some of us the willies. And the phenomenon that Mark describes is among the reasons why.

Comments (18)

It strikes me that this "small body" work indeed happens often at every level of the Church. I've seen it happen frequently even in my Diocese (and participated in some of it).

Experience shows, though, that such work and statements don't amount to a hill of beans if they are not adopted by the wider Body and then implemented with the direction of leadership.

Each piece of the schema has substance worthy of discussion. To assemble them as some defining Anglican "Way" is just Angli-Babble. We have to worry that something as fatuous as the 4 Instruments will emerge from the Four fold Way in a few years as though it always existed.

I prefer the four fold way of Reaso, Scripture, Nature and Worship from dear Mr Hooker.

Fr Helmer, when did the larger Body adopt the whole Instruments of Communion business, or the idea that the Primates Meeting and Lambeth have anything but consultative and advising functions? Those both seem to have been implemented by leadership without much input from the larger Body at all.

Bill,

That’s precisely my point, and it helps explain why Rowan is suffering a multi-year headache!

When I read this at Harris' blog, I was a bit confused for in the post immediately preceeding this one he talks about getting rid of the old ways of doing Anglicanism-including the old wineskins of the Bible and theology- and making a new Anglicanism focused on "Aesthetics/poetry". And he and others have had no problem in the past naming all kinds of conservative ideas "Non-Anglican" which implies that there IS an "Anglican Way". Has anyone ever voted to make Hooker's description official?

I think the church does need some accepted/official description. In the open letter to churches linked here a few days ago, the visitor asks churches to admit and be open about what kind of church they are so visitors aren't horrified or wasting their time. What's going on now isn't working. The "fudge" recipe's gone stale. So maybe the church needs to decide if it's serving meat or vegan, but make up it's mind.
I know it sounds more inclusive not to have a definition, but words/ideas without definition are meaningless, which is what the church is in danger of becoming to those on the outside.

Chris Harwood

Chris, I don't mind the Episcopal Church having a definition. But I object to the communion imposing a definition on member churches that is formulated by a group that wasn't convened for that task. That's my problem with this venture.

I think the idea that we "do our theology by legislation" is a misnomer. We generally say we live by lex orandi, lex credendi, which implies our theology is in our prayer book. The prayer book is assembled by a smaller group, then "recieved" by convention. The idea that we "do theology" (or often, "do politics") at General Convention is why it gets bogged down. GC is not a church council. If it was intended to be one, it would have been named so.

I think the idea that we "do our theology by legislation" is a misnomer. We generally say we live by lex orandi, lex credendi, which implies our theology is in our prayer book. The prayer book is assembled by a smaller group, then "recieved" by convention. The idea that we "do theology" (or often, "do politics") at General Convention is why it gets bogged down. GC is not a church council. If it was intended to be one, it would have been named so.

David Simmons

I dunno, David. The Prayer Book is revised by a committee appointed by electing presiding officers which hands off its work to a legislative committee, which presents it as legislation to convention which approves--not receives it--by taking a vote. That sounds like legislation to me.

It's also well worth noting that authorized changes to the BCP move through a lengthy trial use process in the full Body of the Church before being fully approved in their final form by the legislative process of General Convention.

There is an old saying, The Way that can be named is not the Way.

Frankly, I think there is an "Anglican Way" -- which I see from an examination of our actual history. This new fourfold thing has some virtues, but seems to me to be just another variety of fudge. What does 'directed by God's mission' really mean. Does God have a mission, or is it the church that is given a mission? I think the latter, and I take the BCP definition of that mission to heart, and it involves all of humanity, not just Anglicans.

Fuzzy buzzwords lead to fuzzy theology. I think a moratorium on position papers is in order....

For what it's worth, I think this fourfold description of Anglicanism was in the final Indaba report of Lambeth 2008. Not sure if it began there but I'm pretty sure it is there.

I'm also pretty sure the ACC has labelled the instruments of Communion/Unity as such, so to the extent that is an official decision, there it is.

-Jesse

Jesse, that's story of my point. A phrase gets coined in a report that is not officially approved by the communion, is repeated endlessly, gains currency through the repetition, and is then legitimized because the people who legitimize it assume it is already true. It's a very backdoor way of doing business, and one of the reasons that so many of us are suspicious of the communion bureaucracy.

I'm confused as to whether the notion of the Instruments of Unity/Communion is the creation of Lambeth, the Windsor Commission, or the ACC. When did consultative bodies (Lambeth, ACC, Primates Meetings) and +++Cantaur get grouped together as Instruments of Unity for the first time? And where did any of those consultative bodies derive the authority to redefine the structure of the Anglican Communion by elevating themselves to the status of Instruments of Anything (except of consultation)?

Bill, the phrase or one like it first appeared in the Virginia Report. I am in an airport, so can't google around for a link.

The Virginia Report is here

Thanks, Mo. Fontaine.

Yeas, that must be the first, or one of the first, usages of the term - it wasn't even capitalized yet.

The Virginia Report also seems to give a fivefold Anglican Way!

A phrase gets coined in a report that is not officially approved by the communion, is repeated endlessly, gains currency through the repetition, and is then legitimized because the people who legitimize it assume it is already true.

Which seems a very polite way of saying that if you repeat a falsehood (lie) often enough, that people begin to believe that it is the truth.

Bro. David
KONY 2012

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