Email #1: Co-Inhering
Here is just another reason I love being Anglican:
I was re-reading Fr. (x)’s response to that Pelikan blurb I sent on Scripture and the authority of Tradition and his wrap-up is so telling of the “middle way” of Anglicanism and why it makes so much sense:
Contra modern Roman rhetoric, Anglicans haven’t been interested in undermining the authority of Scripture in order to buttress the authority f the Church. On the other hand, contra evangelicals, Anglicans haven’t been interested in denying the authority of the Church in order to magnify the authority of Scripture. They believe the Church was given authority to preach said Scriptures authoritatively and to minister the sacraments so that God’s kingdom would be manifested in the life of the Church, which is Christ’s Body. The Church and the Scriptures co-inhere, and the Scriptures can only be understood as the Book of the Church.
Yes!! What a great last line: “The Church and the Scriptures co-inhere, and the Scriptures can only be understood as the Book of the Church.”
To me, that is the key that unlocks so many dead-ends in evangelical Christianity. The reasons evangelicals can’t agree on Scripture is because they can’t agree on the church either! If the two really “co-inhere” like Fr. (X) says, then it makes perfect sense why you can’t have one without the other. If the Church comes down to a group of people with similar theological leanings, then the Scripture comes down to a book that justifies those leanings (despite the anomalous passages to the contrary that have to be tossed out or ignored). And if everyone in the church is an authority (they decide to give or not; to pray or not; to help or not; to attend services or not; etc.) then everyone in the church is also an authority on Scripture as well and vice versa.
It also explains why Scripture is beginning to lose authority in parts of evangelicalism (homosexuality; role of women; role of men; role of sacraments in salvation; etc.): because the church no longer has any authority! If the church really has no authority, then why would its book have any either?
So to get rid of the Church is actually to get rid of a proper understanding of Scripture. Sola Scriptura doesn’t purify the word or the church; it actually ends up nullifying both of them.
Email #2: A Response – But Doesn’t Anglicanism Really Just Fall Prey to Same Problems as Evangelicalism
I’d love to dive in and be able to say with confidence that I believe in Anglicanism and that it is the purest form of Christianity and the Church that we have. But I remain so, so torn, and precisely because of the problems you have laid out below for Evangelicalism, except I can see those same problems in Anglicanism.
Case in point, what’s happening now in the Anglican Communion, with Justin Welby calling for the Communion to resolve to setting aside differences to form an even weaker Communion that is based on little more than tolerance for one another than for truly authoritative teaching and theology.
What I see in Anglicanism is all the forms of what the Church should be in its liturgical life and ecclesial offices, but with no sense of what the true authority of the Church is. If the authority is with the bishops of the Church, there are too many heads of authority competing against one another. And it’s not just that some of the bishops may be apostate, it is that entire member churches in the Communion have used their apostolic authority to profess and ratify heresies as official Church teaching and practice. And what has the response been? Schism.
But how is that any different from the problems in Evangelicalism, with endless schism all in the name of returning to the Bible, or a truer form of Christian practice, etc. The only difference is that in Anglicanism one can profess that there is a God-given authority in which to found a new Church (i.e. ACNA). Who’s to say that ACNA is the true Church and not the Anglican Church of Canada or the Episcopalian Church? Well, one group of bishops against another. Even the Archbishop of Canterbury will not recognize ACNA as part of the Communion.
Maybe you guys can provide me with some way of reconciling this unfortunate data. I just can’t bring my conscience and logic to make sense of this problem in Anglicanism, because to me it just looks like the same problems found in Evangelicalism: a tradition that has nullified its claim to authority (in one case the Bible, and in the other a fractured episcopal authority).
Email #3: An Explanation from Father (x)
I know we touched on this already, but as the Anglican Communion spread the Church returned to a conciliar structure more like Eastern Orthodoxy (and the undivided Church) instead of utilizing a magisterium. I am sympathetic to those who find comfort in the idea of a magisterium. The problem is, it was a late development, and doesn’t reflect the governance of the Church throughout its first thousand years.
The trifecta of Holy Scripture, Holy Tradition, and God-directed reason, exposited by the Church gathered together in Council has guided the Church down through the millennia. When Hooker reemphasized these, he was doing nothing other than reestablishing the guiding lights of the ancient Church, and he did it in a way that St. Thomas Aquinas would have thought self-evident. The difference between the conciliar structure and the that of the magisterium is one of degrees—by which I mean temperature J The interpretation and application of the teaching of the Church tends to be defined in the furnace of controversy.
That doesn’t mean that councils (in their non-ecumenical sense) never err. Church history is littered with missteps that required course corrections. Bishops have failed us, just as they failed the Church in the 4th and 5th centuries, and again in the 11th, and again in the later medieval period. If the true Church requires infallible bishops, then there is no true Church. In truth, though, Jesus Christ is building his Church, and though it may look like hell has the advantage from time to time, it won’t ultimately prevail. As Anglicans we are experiencing a time of trial. We’ve tolerated heresy, and we are paying the price, but God is refining us in the process.
The problems we are facing don’t arise from a lack of apostolic authority, they arise from a rejection of said authority. Some have held fast, though, both within the Anglican Church of Canada and within ACNA. I don’t know anyone within ACNA, incidentally, who would say that we are the “true Church.” We are a part of One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, and ACNA was born out of the desire to maintain that catholicity after synod reclassified “core doctrine,” and then only with the guidance and covering of the Primates from the Global South. That move doesn’t mean that we don’t acknowledge our brethren who remained; it simply means that we felt we could no longer remain under the authority of bishops who, in synod, could tamper with the faith once and for all handed down.
This move can be and has been seen by some as reflecting the fragmenting tendency of evangelicalism. We would disagree. When the north African Church was riven with Donatism, someone asked St. Augustine what they should do, as their bishop had embraced heresy. He counselled them, “Find yourself an orthodox bishop.” That is what we’ve done, not seeking to start a new Church, but to preserve the Anglican witness. In time, as God continues his refining work, it may be possible for the two to become one. I hope that time comes, but it will require discipline, repentance, and a great deal of humility all around.
As to Rome’s magisterium, it’s a great idea, but it’s also novel, and It introduced a number of novel doctrines which are alien to ancient Christian faith (and would ironically put many of the Medieval doctors, including Aquinas, outside of the Catholic faith). Our Roman brethren are to be admired in many ways, and the shift that’s taken place since Vatican II towards a more Patristic expression of faith means we have more in common with them now than ever before. But there are still challenges that need to be overcome before I could accept the magisterium’s authority as valid: it would need to be more conciliar and ecumenical (East and West speaking with one voice); it would have to streamline its teaching with the faith of the undivided Church (which was the guiding light for the Anglican reformers). As Anglicans, we have some repenting to do too. But it’s my hope that one day these streams of the Church will be reunited too.