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"What makes theology Anglican?"
"What makes theology Anglican?"
At the simplest level, theology is Anglican when any two or more
Anglicans collaborate on it, but it won't necessarily be recognized as
Anglican by any two other Anglicans.
Certain emphases consistently surface in Anglican theologies, but
they're not exclusive to us. Typically we give high priority to the
doctrine of incarnation, believing that God takes on human flesh not
just once in Jesus, but chooses to dwell again in each of us if we
are open to God's spirit. A good many of us Anglicans believe that if
you want to see Jesus you need to keep a close eye on the
marginalized, for as often as we serve them, we serve Jesus, and as
often as we neglect them, we neglect Jesus.
A very bright Presbyterian pastor in my youth gave a series of sermons
on the positive distinctions of each denomination. I've always liked
what he said about Anglicans: "Whenever they get in a tight space
about a theological point, they have a ready explanation: 'It is a
mystery.'" He was talking specifically about our view of God's
presence in the sacrament of Holy Communion, but the generalization
extends to much else that we think. I have long felt that the most
Anglican hymn for our theology is "God moves in mysterious ways."
One cannot understand Anglican theology just as precept or concept:
one has to watch Anglican theology in motion, in our worship, and in
the myriad ways we keep prayer common. We've never had the luxury
of agreeing about a great many 'issues'; for whenever we try, we find
ourselves at war with other Anglican positions. But we have agreed
that three books are important to us, the Bible and the BCP, and
lesser definitively, the Hymnal: they shape us, and we are shaped
We have nuns and monks; we have evangelists. We have solemn high
mass; we have plain morning prayer. A few of us even speak in tongues,
but usually only on Sunday night and in the crypt, lest we frighten
the Respectable at the 11 o'clock service. We have professional
choirs in gothic cathedrals; we have choirs with drums under
lean-tos: and we have these contrasts within each diocese and
province throughout the world.
Most Anglicans value the mind. In most of our churches, one does
not have to hang up her mind at the door. We have many adult
converts. Well over a majority of all Episcopalians have been members
of other denominations while adults.
In the Episcopal Church a defining emphasis of our theology for the
last quarter of a century has been our renewed emphasis on the
baptismal covenant, to honor God in one another and to respect the
dignity of every human being. That has led us into many justice
ministries. It manifests concretely our doctrine of the incarnation.
At our best we do not try to limit God to the way we see God or
describe God or worship God in any one way or in any one place:
revelation is not over. God for us is living. The church exists not
to put God into all the proper theological categories, but rather to
enable us in community to worship God and to serve God.
I was a Baptist as a child 60 years ago, and whenever I visited the
Episcopal Church, they always seemed to sing two hymns that I rarely
heard in the Baptist church. And if I did hear them in the Baptist
Church, I assumed we were trying to play like Episcopalians, because
the hymns did not seem as integral to us as to the Episcopalians:
"Holy, Holy, Holy" and "Fairest, Lord Jesus." The first captures much
of the awe and the majesty of Anglican worship; the second captures
Anglicans' affirmation of how accessible God is.
I found the Baptists of my youth very strong on "Jesus as my personal
savior." In my adulthood as an Episcopalian, I have experienced the
equally important claim, that "Jesus is the savior of the whole
world," that Jesus loves absolutely everybody.