A series of essays in the Episcopal Church
By Bruce Ford
If the Episcopal Church is a "denomination," it does not matter if people leave it an join another "denomination."
We are not, thank God, a "denomination." As John Macquarrie wrote in the 1960s "Anglicanism has never considered itself to be a sect or denomination originating in the sixteenth century. It continues without a break the Ecclesia Anglicana founded by St. Augustine thirteen centuries and more ago, though nowadays that branch of the Church has spread far beyond the borders of England. Our present revered leader, Arthur Michael Ramsey, is reckoned the one hundredth Archbishop of Canterbury, in direct succession to Augustine himself. It is often claimed that Anglicanism has no special doctrines of its own and simply follows the universal teaching of the Church. When one considers the nature of the English Reformation, one see that there is strong support for this claim. In England there was no single dominant figure, such as Luther or Calvin, who might impress upon the Church his own theological idiosyncrasies."
We have never regarded the Thirty-nine articles in the same way that Calvinists of Lutherans have regarded their respective "Confessions." When in the 1979 Prayer Book the Articles were relegated to an appendix containing "historical documents," no one raised an eyebrow because Anglicans have not regarded them as anything more for centuries.
AAC seems intent on turning us into a "denomination" by imposing confessional norms beyond the Catholic norms to which we already subscribe.
I do not know how to assess conflicting reports about whether ECUSA is shrinking. I would be sorry to learn that it is shrinking as rapidly as Martin says it is because I believe that, for all its defects, ECUSA represents the healthiest manifestation of Catholic Christianity in the U.S., and I would be sorry to learn that large numbers of people were turning their backs on it to join "denominations" or to embrace Roman Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy.
But even if they were, I would not NECESSARILY blame ECUSA. I would want to know why. Often the quest for a kind of certainty about everything that God does not offer us leads people to embrace (imagined) biblical literalism, (imagined) papal authority, or (imagined) immunity to change. These three are grounded in dishonesty--dishonesty of a sort that I would never wish to see ECUSA embrace, no matter how many members it lost.
Grace Church in Newark.
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