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.