The Chinese have a saying: may you live in interesting times. These are definitely interesting times for the Anglican Communion. There remains little doubt that the Episcopal Church, USA will not embrace the spirit of the Windsor report, nor will General Convention repent of the church’s actions in 2003. Yet, I remain hopeful that the bulk of the communion will not follow ECUSA into the dark night of liberal sectarianism. Indeed, the dialogue in the communion has moved beyond the issue of human sexuality (Archbishop Williams in laying out his vision for Lambeth 2008 has stated that there will be no revisiting of the stated Communion teaching in Lambeth 1998 resolution I.10, i.e. that homosexuality is incompatible with Holy Scripture and the Christian life). Instead, the conversation within the broader communion has moved into the process of reception of the Windsor Report and the process of considering what an Anglican Covenant as suggested by the Windsor process would look like.
The Church of Nigeria has already given its response to this by iterating a commitment to the historic Book of Common Prayer, 1662, the classic ordinal and the 39 articles of religion. Other provinces and individual theologians are working furiously to provide input and direction for such a covenantal statement among the churches of the Communio Anglicana. Because of this, I’ve decided to write my honors paper on ecclesiology in Anglicanism. In particular my interest has been piqued multiple times over the past several years by a historical school of anglican thought termed “High Church Evangelical,” “Evangelical High-churchmen” or the “Reformed Catholic” position. I would say that this position formed the bulk of the High Church party, especially after the recusants left the Church of England, seeing that their hopes of steering the C of E back to Rome were ill-founded. This party remained as the primary expression of the high-church position within Anglicanism until the 19th century and the rise of the Oxford Tractarians and Anglo-Catholicism.
The reason that recent conversations within the communion have directed me more and more toward this historical Anglican position is this: It is clear that provinces of the Anglican Communion share a commitment to the three-fold ministry of Bishop, Priest and Deacon. Additionally, they have a high sacramental theology, especially as regards the Eucharist (indeed, I think an argument can be made that while the Episcopal Church, USA has a rite which suggests a high eucharistic theology, in practice the eucharistic theology of her sister churches of a more evangelical stripe is higher–witness their insistence on breaking table fellowship with Frank Griswold and Gene Robinson). This high ecclesiology and sacramental theology however is paired with a broad-based foundation in Evangelical theology. The result is a Communion that doesn’t quite fit within the predominant expressions of Protestantism yet it does not embrace the Roman Catholic understanding of the Church either. This unique ecclesiology is founded in the experience of the English Church prior to and during the reformation.
One of the hallmarks of Anglicanism has been the reluctance of its divines to make pronouncements that would indicate a doctrinaire view of the Body of Christ. Anglicanism has sought by virtue of its nature as an established church to be comprehensive. This comprehensiveness should not be mistaken for intellectual or doctrinal laxity, rather–as is often the case–one principle over-rode the others so that the Anglican belief that the Church of England was truly the Church in England, the religious body to which all English-people should belong by virtue of their identity as English, and from which they have received spiritual nurture even at times when they themselves would have rejected it on principle. In other words the Anglican understanding of covenant and the Christian Commonwealth was hard at work.
Indeed, the very reluctance with which the Church of England approached the development of Christian communities separate from her institutionally but within her geographic boundaries, reveals something of Anglican ecclesiology, i.e. it resisted the Protestant turn to denominationalism because its constitution found such developments antithetical to its self-understanding as the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church within the territorial bounds of England, serving the English people as it had done since the first Roman Legionaries or Joseph of Arimathea brought Christ to the Sceptered Isle.