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The Challenge of Change
THE ANGLICAN COMMUNION IN THE POST-MODERN ERA
By Mark Harris
Church Publishing IncorporatedCopyright © 1998 Mark Harris
All rights reserved.
Finding the Anglican Communion
Francis Bacon (1561–1626) thought that three great inventions had ushered in the new world in which he lived—gunpowder, the mariner's compass and printing. Gunpowder contributed to the establishment of centralized national states in Europe, and to warfare between them; gunpowder and the mariner's compass between them made possible the extension of European domination and plunder over the whole world, and so to the enrichment of Europe. Printing extended knowledge.
Francis Bacon lived at the front edge of what we now call modernity. Modernity is the name given to the period of history that covers the last four hundred years, roughly from the beginning of the seventeenth century to the mid-twentieth century. Nested in modernity is the Enlightenment, generally considered the product of the eighteenth century. Bacon's three world-changing devices—gunpowder, the first moveable type press (ca. 1450), and the marine compass—were all products of the late medieval period. Their origins were not European, or at least not exclusively so, but it was Europe's fortune and misfortune alike that these devices were perfected in design in Europe in the Renaissance and Reformation periods and made economically accessible to a whole variety of people, companies, and nations.
The years from 1450 to 1600 completely transformed western Europe. It looked for the first time across oceans to the west and south for its adventures, not only to land routes east. The technologies for exploration and colonialism were developed in this period. As importantly, it was a time when Europeans learned the beginning skills of revolution, mostly by practicing it among themselves.
It was a time when intellectual life expanded with a new freedom, fed by the information explosion of the printed word. It was a time of renaissance. It was a time when Christendom made its greatest effort to make church better. It was a time for reformation. It was also the time in which a distinctly English understanding of church began to be articulated. The origins of Anglicanism date from this period, just before what is called the Modern Age.
"The Anglican Communion," as a name, was first used in about 1850. It is this period of about 250 years in which the guiding sensibilities of Anglicanism were articulated, preparations were made, and experiences were had, that led to the naming of a perceived worldwide collection of churches. Anglicanism was formed as the west was becoming the "modern world," and the Anglican Communion is a product of that world. It is no wonder, then, that as the paradigms and models based on the presuppositions of the west are now being challenged, the Anglican Communion might also find itself confronted by its own rootedness in modernity.
Historians are everywhere, and so are their analyses of the meaning of events and movements. There are very good histories available dealing with the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Enlightenment, the Church of England, and Anglicanism. It would do both these historians and the reader a disservice to try to say too much more about the rather complex weaving of issues and concerns during this period. But there are some historical notes that do seem appropriate to the topic of this book. I suggest we look at them in three areas: themes of Anglicanism; Anglicanism as experienced by its receivers; and Anglican Communion concerns in the late twentieth century.
Most studies of Anglicanism are written as if we were following a path through centuries of English history, paths which in the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries would lead to the new world of churches that are Anglican but not in England. That is, the viewpoint is precisely English. But our concerns are about the Anglican Communion. A history of the whole Anglican Communion might better begin by recounting what it was like to have these English come and bring this religion with them. The Anglican Communion begins really with the first awareness that the religion which first appeared as English was now truly located in many places and was no longer merely English. I want briefly to make some observations about the history of the Anglican Communion viewed from outside the English Church. These will, I hope, prepare the groundwork for examining some contemporary issues regarding the communion as a whole.
Themes of Anglicanism in the Forming of the Anglican Communion
Several fine summaries of the early history of Anglicanism are available to the interested reader:
"From the Reformation to the Eighteenth Century," by William Haugaard; chapter 1 of A Brief History of the Episcopal Church, by David L. Holmes; and of course, Stephen Neill's chapter on Reformation in Anglicanism. From them several central themes appear, clearly intertwined. The two of most value to us here are the themes of settlement and basic resources.
Settlement and Establishment
Settlement refers to the English struggle to find a way to have a Church of England established, widely comprehensive and national in scope. This struggle occupied England from the accession of Henry VIII to the Toleration Act of 1689. When it began there was no question that there was but one church in England and one Monarch who was governor of the entire realm, and that state and church were bound together. When it was over there were many churches, and the monarchy was on its way to becoming the symbol of the nation rather than the true governor of either church or state.
The principles of this settlement were laid out during the reign of Elizabeth I. The notion of a "national church that could unite all Catholic-minded English men and women who were willing to stop short of recognizing the authority of the pope and all Protestant-minded citizens who were willing to accept bishops" was articulated. The Thirty-nine Articles of 1571 helped to place the Church of England in a middle way, and theologians, notably Richard Hooker, developed a polity for this Church of England.
The problem is that the Elizabethan Settlement did not hold. With the queen's death, the whole thing almost unraveled, and when it was stitched back together after the reestablishment of the monarchy there was one major difference in the product. Where before there had been a single nation and a single church, there was now a nation with many churches. There was still a national church established and supported by law, but there was no longer one English church. Now there was the "Church of England," and other churches in England as well. Because the church of England was established (paid for by taxes), it could think of itself as the English church. But more and more dissenters and "papists" knew better. We should note this pluralism, because when the English went overseas they took not the Church of England, but a plurality of churches. From the recipient's point of view, the English were not all of the same persuasion, and the Anglican Church was only one of a variety of possibilities.
In an odd way there was something wonderfully reforming about pluralism as the natural environment for churches in the Anglican Communion. It meant that the Reformation worked—that the human heart, mind, and soul might find refuge in the Word of God without the incrustations of specific ecclesiastical interpretation. But it also meant that no where in the world would Anglicans find themselves as truly established as they were in England.
Basic Resources: The Book of Common Prayer and the Bible
The Reformation effort to place Holy Scripture in the hands of the people—in their own languages—was a revolutionary activity. It is a prime example of what can happen when people have both the freedom to receive information and access to it in their own language. The assumptions that such access would be beneficial rested on confidence in the faith-enabling power of scripture and in the abilities of the human mind to comprehend. Putting the Bible into people's hands said something about the power of the Bible and about the power of the reader's mind. Humanism, or at least its respect for the abilities of the human mind, had its nest at the heart of the Reformation.
Still, for there to be anything like a comprehensive faith able to bridge Catholic and Protestant sensibilities, it would be immensely helpful to have the scriptures in an agreed-on form and translation; hence the efforts which produced the Authorized Version of the Bible. There might be wide disagreements as to what scripture meant, but there might be reasonable agreement on a translation. The work was successful, and wherever the English went from 1611 on, the Authorized, or "King James," Version of the Bible accompanied them.
The importance of the Authorized Version was that it provided a sense of some unity among all but Roman Catholics, if not in church polity and practice, at least in the words of scripture. It also affirmed the primacy of literacy among the skills to be encouraged among the faithful. This affirmation led not only to the formation of schools and colleges in which English was taught, but also to translations of scripture into other languages some of which, until then, had no written form at all.
The Book of Common Prayer offered another model for comprehension and unity. By having prayers in a language understood by the people, and a single book in which was laid out the order and content of common prayer in churches, the Church of England affirmed a principle of accessibility. It made worship less a matter of "hocus pocus" and more an instrument of empowerment. It also affirmed change as morally appropriate. In the Anglican churches scattered across the world there was now a book which in its preface held that "there was never any thing by the wit of man so well devised or so sure established, which in continuance of time hath not been corrupted...." Those who read this understood, and found new courage to become churches in their own right and peoples of self-governance.
The content of the Book of Common Prayer affirmed ordered daily prayer, the sacraments, and orders of ministry with bishops as chief pastors. It did so in ways that it was hoped would serve a single church for a single nation. That did not happen, but at least it did assure that within the Church of England there would be the use of this one book. So, again, the hoped-for conformity of the whole nation was not to be; but the uniformity within the Established church was more or less possible.
The Book of Common Prayer was very much an instrument of "location." That is, it had its reason for being in the particulars of time and space. We speak of "the Book of Common Prayer," but it is important to remember that within the first two hundred years there were several, each molded to its location in history. For most of the period of missionary expansion the book was that of 1662, but as users became aware of the difference in their location from England, they would change its content and form. One historian has called the Book of Common Prayer an "incarnational Book." It may be that it is in its theology and spirit incarnational, but it was also incarnational in that its development was "enfleshed" in the specifics of time and space.
The Authorized Version of the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer were not only primary products of the Reformation in England, they were among the most specifically Anglican artifacts to circulate throughout the world. And they carried with them the germ of a hope that was not realized at home—that there might be a comprehensive and settled faith.
By the time the English began to be a power in the world, a comprehensive established national church in England was no longer a reality. Yet the hope for that comprehensiveness provided Anglican churches with a unique sense of self among the reformed churches. Anglicanism did not view itself as a confessional church, but as an established one. Instead of identifying itself as a righteous remnant, it rested its sense of self and its hopes on common prayer and fairly translated scriptures, on a faith received in tradition, and on reason as a God-given resource.
Anglicanism provided the newly forming Anglican churches with remarkable tools: a Bible, a Prayer Book, sacraments, bishops, a sense of comprehensiveness, and a desire to conform practice to location. The receivers of these gifts would make use of them in ways that could not have been imagined by the Church of England in its struggles.
Notes on Anglicanism as Experienced by its Receivers
A history of the Anglican Communion from the viewpoint of those outside England would likely be quite different from an English-centered history of Anglicanism. In the first place, it would begin with a description of how the English got themselves to other countries, rather than with an explanation of how the faith got to England. Of course that history is mixed. There would have been no such thing as the Anglican Communion, had there not been some sort of adventure—a moving out. A history of the Anglican Communion from the standpoint of the receivers of Anglicanism might well begin with observations about the character of adventure in the modern world.
Adventure in the modern world is a product of corporate greed, individual need for opportunity and liberty, and the conjunction of the full development of several technological advances. The mounting of expeditions and the establishment of settlements required the accumulation of capital and personnel, companies and companions. Chaplains accompanied the adventurers, but almost entirely for the benefit of the adventurers and the companies they represented. Unlike the Roman Catholics, who had taken on new tasks in mission in the sixteenth century, Anglicans and other Protestants did very little to proclaim the gospel in "foreign parts" until the end of the seventeenth century.
In the East and West Indies and in the American colonies we seem to get the first English efforts to bring the gospel to people other than their own colonialists and merchants. New World English charters for colonization of the seventeenth century began to speak of bringing natives to Christ. But European Protestant mission work in any force would await "the emergence of the movement called pietism.... The principles of pietism are the demand for personal conversion and for holiness, close fellowship in the Society, and responsibility for witness." Deliberate mission by the Church of England can generally be dated from the establishment of the first two mission societies at the turn of the eighteenth century: the Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge (SPCK) and the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts (SPG). Both exhibited elements of this pietism. Either by commission, as in the case of SPG and SPCK missionaries, or by accident of personal inclination, as in the case of some chaplains, by the middle of the eighteenth century there were Anglican ministers and churches throughout the world. As Anglican clergy, these missionaries were men under authority. SPG and SPCK missionaries were accountable both to their Societies and to the Bishop of London. English chaplaincies had less clear lines of accountability to London, but were at least accountable to the company that held Royal Charter.
By the late eighteenth century there were churches in the colonies whose members had lived all their lives in these new locations. The beginning of what would become the Anglican Communion is marked by concerns about the relation of these new churches to the home church. The issues seemed fairly straightforward. As church communities began to identify their new locations as home, they came to view the English Church and its organizations as distant. As these communities began to reach out to others—whether to the unchurched or Free-Church English, or to those thought of as foreigners, heathen, or natives—their membership began to include persons that had no real stake in England, its customs, or its laws. As colonies became independent, and as nations became more assertive of their separateness from the British, it became important for churches to claim this separateness as well.
From 1750 to 1850 much effort was made to identify the basis on which separate Anglican churches might be established outside England. Anglicanism is a way of being the church that has now more than 1700 years of experience with which to work, but the emerging notions of ecclesial life that would characterize the Anglican Communion drew primarily on the corporate, nationalist, and individualist sensibilities of the beginning of the modern era in England.
I believe a history of the Anglican Communion should be written which would be begin with "case studies" from these churches. In doing so, many Anglican theological and ecclesial concerns would be reflected. They would appear, however, not as elements of a hard-won effort to work out a "settlement" or establish a church, concerns which arose before modernity took hold. Rather, they would appear in the context of a modern worldview or paradigm.
Excerpted from The Challenge of Change by Mark Harris. Copyright © 1998 Mark Harris. Excerpted by permission of Church Publishing Incorporated.
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Table of Contents
CHAPTER ONE FINDING THE ANGLICAN COMMUNION
CHAPTER TWO AN ANGLICAN COMMUNION UNDERSTANDING OF THE CHURCH A
Community of Mutuality
CHAPTER THREE THEOLOGY ROOTED IN THE INCARNATION
CHAPTER FOUR ENGAGEMENT WITH THE WORLD The Practice of Incarnational
CHAPTER FIVE VOCATIONAL RECOMMENDATIONS FOR THE ANGLICAN COMMUNION
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