May God grant us sanity to rebuild a centre

Published December 1, 2002

For more than 400 years the genius of Anglicanism has been its redemptive ability to live with diversities of theology and liturgical practice. Finding its roots in the reformation of the 16th century, the reformed Church of England held up the dream and hope that Christians of both Calvinist and Catholic conviction could find a spiritual home in this one faith community.

For generations we have referred to Anglicanism as the via media — a Christian tradition committed to finding its integrity in the essentials of both Catholic and Protestant traditions, while avoiding the extremes in both.

For these four centuries this godly child of the modern era has nurtured the Christian faith of millions and has contributed to Western culture. But as the modern era gives way to postmodernity Anglicanism finds itself enduring phenomenal pressures that threaten the generosity of this inclusive communion. The debate over the blessing of homosexual relationships is but the latest chapter of the 20th-century stretching of Anglican inclusivity. For several decades Anglicans have been moving away from the once sacred centre, attracted by the energies of other traditions on the right and on the left.

It has been my observation over the past 20 years that both conservative and liberal Anglicans have been stretching their once inclusive centre, but in opposite directions. Some have found new spiritual energy in the worship styles of the Vineyard and Pentecostal traditions while Anglicans on the left, have moved to the more liberal energies found in the writings of Karen Armstrong, John Dominic Crossan and John Spong.

Whichever side one choose, one thing is sadly evident — a growing number of Anglicans are moving away from one another. One of the key issues raised by the current situation is the institutional future of the Anglican church. Can this inclusive communion — child of the modern era — withstand the inclusion of more diversity and the cultural chaos of a postmodern society?

In his book The Future of Christianity, Alister McGrath contends that when the dust of postmodernism settles, four institutional forms of Christianity will have survived: Roman Catholi-cism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Pentecostalism and Evangelical-ism. Conspicuous by their absences are the mainline churches of the reformation. Could it be that these churches, the cultural products of the modern era with its respect for knowledge, rationality and history are now floundering on the rocks of postmodernity which repudiates objective truth, authority and history while the traditions named by McGrath either predate modernity or counter it.

If the Anglican tradition of Christianity is to continue with any integrity it must rediscover a centre where both conservative and liberal can meet, pray together, and find Jesus together.

Secondly, a policy of ?madly off in all directions? to appease our culture, will be suicidal for the church. It used to be said of the Celtic Church of the seventh century that it was ?solid in the centre and loose around the edges.? God save us from a church that is loose in the centre and hard around the edges!

Thirdly, we must recognize that Anglicanism has never been at home with extremism either on the left or the right. Appeals to the extremes of any spiritual tradition will weaken the centre rather than compliment it.

Fourth, a church that celebrates ?mystery without morality? — that is heavy on experience but light on obedience — will not succeed in countering the relativism and secularism of our culture with a gospel that is both inspirational and transformational.

May God grant us the sanity to rebuild a centre that is solid leaving our looseness where it belongs — around the edges.


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