From Dr. Will G. Witt’s page:
Others, however, have left Anglicanism, and look back with either the hurt of disappointed lovers, or the anger of those who seem to believe themselves betrayed, who have been sold a bill of goods. The message I too often hear from these people is that not only is the ship sinking, but it was never anything but a leaky tub anyway, and the damned thing deserved to sink. Sometimes I detect even a note of gleefulness that the useless hulk is going down, and those who stay aboard deserve their fate. But whether they’re hurt, or angry, or gleeful, the message is the same. Anglicanism was a bad deal from the start. But it’s not too late to get aboard the real ship, the one ship that will never sink.
I understand the hurt and resentment, because I feel it myself. But not the dismissal. If I were ever to leave Anglicanism, it could only be with a sense of loss, that a noble vision of what it meant to be Christian had been tried for a few centuries, had produced some remarkable successes, and had brought much good to the world. Sadly, it had come to an end, and its loss would be much like that of those parts of the Byzantine Empire that were obliterated by Islam, or the Celtic Christians who faded after Augustine of Canterbury. For me, this would mean that the Church of Cranmer’s liturgy, and Hooker’s theology, and Donne’s preaching, and Herbert’s poetry, and Traherne’s meditations, and Shakespeare’s plays, and Butler’s keen intellect, and Jane Austin’s novels, and Wilberforce’s and Gore’s social vision, and Westcott’s and Hort’s and Hoskyn’s biblical scholarship, and Arthur Michael Ramsey . . . . and Evelyn Underhilll . . . and . . .C.S. Lewis, Dorothy Sayers, Austin Farrer . . . This Church would be gone forever. But wasn’t it a glorious thing while it lasted!
So why not leave? I can only give my own reasons.
So, first. Leave for what? Rome or Orthodoxy would be the obvious choices. At least they are the ones that are usually offered. When as a young man I left the Evangelical denomination in which I was raised, I became an Anglican because I believed that the Reformation was a reforming movement in the Western Catholic Church, and I was convinced that Anglicanism had come closest to getting that job done right. For the Roman Catholics, Vatican II was successful just to the extent that it incorporated many of the changes that had taken place at some time or another in Anglican history. Liturgy in the vernacular? Check. Communion in both kinds? Check. Renewed emphasis on Scripture? Check. In good critical translations? Check. Religious liberty? Check. Focus on salvation by grace alone and reconsideration of justification by faith? Check. Married clergy? Well . . . Vatican II didn’t do everything.
At the same time, one thing has not changed. As I have always understood it, one only has two choices about the Roman Catholic Church. One either must become a Roman Catholic, or one can not. There is no maybe about becoming Catholic. To become a Catholic, one is required to accept all of that Church’s claims, including its claims about itself. If one accepts those claims, then one has no choice but to convert. But if one does not, one also has no choice. In that case, one cannot become Roman Catholic. And the Roman Catholic Church itself says that one cannot.
I am unable to bring myself to believe Rome’s claims. Without going into details for now, as someone trained in theology (at a Catholic University, no less), I am convinced that the choices here are between Newman’s understanding of the development of the doctrine of the Trinity and Barth’s. And I think Barth was right, and Newman wrong.
Well, then? What about Orthodoxy? I want to claim the Greek Fathers for my own, of course—Athanasius, Cyril, the Cappadocians. I am even excited about learning from such lesser known lights as Leontius of Byzantium and Maximus the Confessor. And I recognize that the Eastern Church never accepted the authority of the bishop of Rome in the way in which Rome came to understand it. And I think they were right in that.
However, as with Rome, there are a number of things that Orthodoxy demands that I cannot quite bring myself to accept. Some are doctrinal niceties, for example, the somewhat abstruse distinction between the divine essence and energies. Or the doctrine of the filioque. I think the Western view is correct on both points. But at bottom, as I said above, I became Anglican because I believed Anglicanism was a reforming movement in the Western Church, and I am a Western Christian.
Mine is the tradition of Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, but also of Hooker, and Luther, and Barth. A Western Orthodoxy that was able to embrace and incorporate this Western tradition (including the Reformers) as well as its own would be an Orthodoxy that I would find attractive, perhaps irresistible. But, to the contrary, Orthodoxy often seems rather to be suspicious of this entire Western tradition, including Augustine, and all who followed him. And, of course, such a Western Orthodoxy would look a lot like . . . historical Anglicanism.
Hat tip to Stand Firm.
I find that Dr. Witt puts into words many of my own reasons to remaining an Anglican as well as my reasons for being unable to become a Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox. The dogmatic pronouncements of the Roman Catholic Church–whether papal infallibility, the assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary etc… make too great a claim for themselves with too little biblical support. I don’t dispute that someone could believe in the assumption of the Blessed Virgin and be an orthodox Christian, but in contrast to Roman Catholics, I believe that one can be an orthodox Christian and not believe it. It’s that simple really–Rome has made salvation issues out of far too many things without clear biblical mandates. On the Orthodox side, I have experienced the same wariness on the part of Eastern Christians toward the Western tradition that Dr. Witt mentions–and this is particularly palpable among those Orthodox who are converts to the Eastern Church having fled the liberalizing elements in their own tradition and determined that for them, the corruption is so deep seated as to negate the beauty of a few thousand years of western Christianity. On the other hand I would be hard pressed to go to the other side of the scale and join a more radically protestant tradition.
Having been raised in a Baptist family, I recognize the strengths of that tradition, but I feel compelled to accept the historical and theological claims of those churches that have maintained the three-fold order of ministry. Out of the reformation Churches, while I have great respect for the Reformed Churches and Lutheranism, I feel that in different ways they tend to be too provincial in their outlook and many Reformed bodies are–ironically like the Roman Catholics–too willing to frame a theological disagreement in absolutes and make mandatory beliefs that scripture is not clear on–in effect they have raised systems of interpretation over scripture itself. I feel that Orthodox Anglicans likely have the most in common with orthodox Lutherans of the Evangelical Catholic variety as well as some Methodists who feel the call of the tradition.
So where will we end up once all the reorganization falls out? In our lifetime, I don’t know, but as believers in Jesus Christ, we know the ending. Thanks be to God.