An Alternative to the Church of England?

The Anglican Catholic Church is certainly not well known in the United Kingdom and this is largely because it is overshadowed by the two great churches of England and of Rome and of the creeping tide of indifference to the Christian Religion. Given that the ACC sees itself very firmly as a continuing Anglican jurisdiction, it is therefore making a clear statement that it sees itself as an alternative to the CofE. How can such a tiny church make such an enormous claim?

To answer this question, one must ask carefully what the alternatives actually are, and this must be done under the principle of charity to all concerned on the grounds that belief necessarily involves deep-seated passions as the blogosphere patently demonstrates.

By and large, the alternatives that we must consider lie in the relationship that the Church has with the secular world. It is very clear from Our Lord’s teaching that the Church is to engage with the world. “Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils: freely ye have received, freely give.” The Mission of the Church is that of spreading the love of God to a world afflicted by sickness, segregation, death and demonry. This love can only come through the mediation of Our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. We are also to make disciples of all nations.

This seems clear enough, but this mandate does not say how the Mission of the Church happens in the context of the world. It does, however, send the Church out into its surroundings. The underlying fact is that Church exists within society. The Church has manners and Society has manners. When the two milieux are in harmony, there is no problem. It is when they diverge that we get a dissonance that affects the lives of many people both in this world and in the world beyond. The alternatives are

a) re-interpret the teaching of the Church so as to accommodate the secular milieu;

b) continue with the teaching of the Church as it has always stood and accept the consequences that the dissonance with society forces upon that Church,

To accept the manners of society wholesale leads unsurprisingly to social acceptability and thus to popularity and respectability. To reject them completely leads to a lack of trust, ridicule, and isolation unless some efforts are made to seek some common ground with society.

It seems that the Church of England has chosen, in its mainstream operation, option (a) and the ACC option (b).

Those who choose option (b) do so in accordance with St Paul’s statement: ” be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that  ye  may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect,  will of God.” St Paul tells us that there must be a way in which the Church is aloof to worldly ideas and sentiments.

The Church of England appears to have chosen option (a), though it is clear that this is not a homogeneous choice. However its subscription to modern culture is enshrined in its canons. If one looks very carefully at Common Worship – the standard liturgical framework of the Church of England – then one sees lots of different liturgies. Some are truly very catholic, others follow the style of the Orthodox, the 1662 Canon is represented as are several others. But this is the point, there is a lot of option here to accommodate the prevailing local culture. One is free to substitute the Creed with an affirmation of faith. One is also free to set the Mass in the frame work of other liturgical services. In several CofE parishes, the evening celebration of Nine Lessons and Carols at Christmass has been brought forward to the morning to be amalgamated with the Mass on the grounds that “more people will come”. This does involve a rejection of lex orandi, lex credendi and this needs to be justified.

Why should this happen? The Church of England believes that it can and should alter its ways in order to allow people to come in to be part of its society. It is trying something very noble in its intention and yet very quixotic in actuality. It is trying to be all things to all people and thus creating an umbrella organisation in which everyone can “feel at home”. It wants to show folk that there is a place for them, where they can feel valued, no matter who they are. The trouble is when they extend this acceptance to people’s worldly manners and subsequently their beliefs. Political correctness makes statements about how we should understand equality, discrimination, what is acceptable or fair.

Once this happens, the distinction between the Church and society is not just blurred, it becomes non-existent. The church that adheres to political correctness as defined from without becomes homogeneous with the ambient society. This is making disciples of all nations by changing the definition of disciple.

It has to be said, however, that the choice of option (a) that the CofE has chosen is not an absolute commitment and this poses its own problems. There are several ways in which the CofE is indeed countercultural, standing against the prevailing materialist description of reality. It has a new agenda for social justice that Pope Francis shares with Archbishop Welby. The question is where this “justice” has its formal interpretation. Is its source from within the Church’s tradition, or does it have its source from outside in the modern understanding of “values”?

To choose option (b) is to be radical. It provides an alternative to the prevailing political correctness and the definitions that society imposes. Some may be concerned that an “immobilist” position does not allow for development. This is a perfectly reasonable concern, especially since the Catholic Faith did not become apparent immediately in its formulation. There was a time when the Nicene Creed was not even though the faith it proclaims has always existed. The Creed forms a rigid bone in the body of Christ and, of course, bones do grow. While a bone certainly requires flesh in order to live truly, it is not supposed to be flexible.

Option (b) does, however, support absolutes and this is what society does not abide. Society prefers relative statements, and not absolutes so that it does not produce any form of discrimination. Absolutes apparently offend and separate into black and white, even though that’s an absolute way of viewing absolutes. This is the trouble. The existence of absolutes is guaranteed by logic, otherwise the non-existence of absolutes would, in itself, become an absolute. Doctrinal stability is not popular, though many people like the trappings.

So what is it that the ACC offers in alternative to the Church of England?

As our banner proclaims, we offer Catholic Faith, Apostolic Order and Orthodox Worship.

We offer Catholic Faith as an alternative to a re-interpreted faith subject to the political correctness of the prevailing society. We offer consistency at the source rather than by assimilation of modern ideas. We have a rule by which we measure what society values and discern God’s will for that society.

We offer Apostolic Order as an alternative to re-interpreting the sacraments in terms of modern materialistic views. We see Holy Orders as being integral to the transmission of the Catholic Faith for the Church as a whole rather than as vocations for individuals whereby they derive some form of acceptance, leadership and ratification.

We offer Orthodox Worship as an alternative to allowing our worship to be subject to the personal choices of congregations. We see our worship as a Church-wide activity so that anyone can come into any Parish and find themselves involved in the same worship that has taken place in the English Church for centuries with its roots in the Early Church, and in the English Language for the last five hundred years. We offer Church-wide unity of worship with the potential for re-unification with other continuing Anglicans on the grounds of our common worship from the Anglican Prayer-book of 1549. We still speak the same language that the CofE once spoke and, therefore, we have the opportunities to reform with other continuing Anglicans provided we have the will to do so. Unity is indeed our issue and problem. It is also achievable.

It is clear that, from recent synods in the CofE, there is no common language as various factions speak past each other, again and again, paralysing the Church from whatever progress that it intends to make, embarrassing it in the sight of its strident critics and being on the receiving end of Parliament threatening to change its doctrine for it. This is not a church that is in control of its own Mission.

Of course, one could become Roman Catholic, however this involves renunciation of one’s identity as an English Catholic. There are no Anglicans in the Ordinariate, just former Anglicans and present Roman Catholics. There are signs within the Roman Church in England that the same issues that cause division in the CofE are arising. However, the RCC has its own commitment to option (b).

The Anglican Catholic Church does offer a credible alternative to the Church of England in its consistency and fidelity to the faith once received. It seems though that too few people are prepared to make the leap of faith. We believe that we have found the correct path and we intend to follow that path to its natural end. We believe that end to be none other than God Himself. If that is politically incorrect to say so, then society will just have to lump it.

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6 Responses to An Alternative to the Church of England?

  1. fatheredbakker says:

    A good piece of writing , I enjoyed reading it. To my mind comes also the prayer discipline of the clergy. This has gone by the wayside in the Anglican Church. We still say the daily offices and make time for prayer, so that ” the chain of prayers to the Lord our God never is broken.

    Father Ed Bakker
    ACC/OP
    Bendigo
    Australia

    • warwickensis says:

      Thank you, Fr Bakker! The loss of the daily discipline of Morning and Evening prayer in church has effectively put up barriers beyond that of the locked church door. I suspect that many CofE priests to keep up the discipline in their own homes but ignore the canons which say that daily prayer must be publicly accessible.

      ________________________________

  2. This is a fine article. You talk of “making a claim” and I understand what you mean, a claim to have a legitimate existence. The legitimacy comes less from institutional consideration than from the spiritual nature of the Church. Otherwise the risk we run is like Americans looking for gold in the old west in the nineteenth century – they “staked their claim” and took possession of it. We are not here to “take possession” of the Church but to participate in its mysteries, the Mystery which is the living sacramental Christ.

    There is little the Church can do with society as it is without ceasing to be the Church, and being transformed into a political or social association. But, there are still people around who are predisposed to things other than the usual stereotypes of young English and European nihilists. We will always be counter-cultural, or rather we are people with a different and minority culture. We need to look to some of the “sub-cultures” around us and see what in them “prefigures” Christianity. That is what St Paul did as he addressed adepts of “pagan” mystery religions familiar with archetypes that Providence willed to prepare them for Christianity.

    Christianity is no longer mainstream and we no longer live in Christian countries where people “belonged without believing” or just went to church to please the Vicar and the neighbours.

    Your option (b) is that of the Saints. It is the “costly grace” of Bonhöffer. But, we have to be careful not to become “gnostics”, thinking we are higher or better than others. All lower being has the possibility of being transfigured into the higher. We ourselves are only making progress. We have to acquire humility.

    The “marketing strategy” of the ACC is good, putting the message clearly and simply. We need also to appeal to a more subtle level through art and culture, through beauty and philosophy (love of wisdom), through what some people find attractive about traditional liturgies.

    It would be as much of an error to become hidebound and stuck in categories of sixteenth-century Reformation polemics. We need to transcend both the Reformation and the Counter Reformation and look to the Undivided Church, not in the way of some converts to Orthodoxy who rewrite history, but being open to everything in the Church from the Apostles to the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. We need to rediscover the great Tradition that is broad and open like the sea and the countryside.

    As our Bishop and I were discussing together, the Anglican Catholic Church is in a unique position to be innovative in this way of rediscovering Tradition beyond our petty conservatisms. We are not bound by towering structures of inert bureaucracy. We have potential for showing the way of spiritual freedom.

    Certainly, we are an alternative, but we are above all a new opportunity. Ours for the taking…

    • warwickensis says:

      Thank you Fr Chadwick, you are right of course. As you say, the ACC is at a very exciting point in its history and, as I allude all too briefly above, I believe it can put flesh on the bones and bring out the true humanity of traditional Anglicanism to a generation that is being starved of Divine Grace. Thinking caps on, perhaps?

      • ed pacht says:

        I speak from another part of the Continuing movement, but think what I observe apples as thoroughly to ACC as it does to my own jurisdiction. We’ve indeed been entrusted with a rare treasure, but we constantly prove ourselves to be unworthy vessels, and so often gild the lily with our own tarnished brass so as to hide its beauty and make its truth hard to find. What I mean is our inherited tendency to hide the beauty of the Faith behind behind our own displeasure at the things we oppose. Few of those we should be reaching are attracted by constant naysaying. We rail (rightly) against the attempts to ordain women — but are we forthright in finding just what ministries God IS calling women to fulfill? Or are we neglecting their divine call? We rightly take a stand against homosexual marriage and practice — but do we spend time with and show love to those we see as sinners? or do we cast them aside as “Raca”? Are sinners rejected or invited? Our doctrinal and liturgical practice is a wonderful possession, but do we love, welcome, and reach out to those who do not have it, as the Friend of sinners did? The gift we have been given is one that requires us to change, radically and dramatically.

  3. fatheredbakker says:

    Blessings Ed,

    It may be so that we are unworthy vessels,but one has to realize that compared with the mainstream Churches we are small and that many of us also work full time. If I look at my own Ministry, which focuses a lot around the sick and suffering there is not really much time left in the day to spend time on anything else. Whilst I am in the ACC/OP because I don’t believe that we were have to have female Priest, it does not mean that I don’t understand that there are females, who are called to the Ministry. Most Clergy in the Anglican Diocese of Bendigo are female. I think that within the ACC/OP there are actually Deaconnesses and I would not hesitate to work with one if only I could find one. Homosexuals are welcome at the Mass I celebrate and I am available for counselling if necessary, although I have not as yet been called to do so. Got involved with AA since yesterday, another big problem area. From my point of view being here in Bendigo we do reach out, we provide a warm welcome those who don’t have it.

    Having said all that, you have made a good point Ed.

    Father Ed Bakker
    ACC/OP
    Bendigo
    Australia

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