`Positive and realistic’ – that’s the Gospel theme

Published May 1, 1998

ANGLICAN ESSENTIALS and the “thrill” of Tradition; Discerning the Future of Anglicanism: A Positive View. These phrases combine much of the content of the books, Anglican Essentials and The Challenge of Tradition. Can we use them to discern an array of responses which the Anglican Church could make using the two manifestos?

The three pillars of Anglicanism, which claims to be truly catholic, are Scripture, tradition, and reason. What of each? Article 6, stating that Holy Scripture “containeth all things necessary to salvation,” can include a wider spectrum of opinion. Have we any right to narrow it? I say no.

Would it not be more of a Gospel to thrill to tradition? Tradition can give people heroism, but it can also give blindness of heart. We cannot live on traditions but should live up to them. This makes room for reason.

Christians have always had to fight an intellectual battle. Today, are we losing it? What place has learning? What are we being taught in sermons? Has anything taken the place of confirmation classes? One lesson sticks out a mile in both manifestos: the need for continual and definite teaching to Anglicans about Anglicanism. (Ephesians 4:14ff).

The Spirit’s (called giver of life in the Nicene Creed) primacy is Scripture, tradition, and reason. These could be usefully expanded in that creed’s trinitarian emphasis, the stress on the centrality: the godhead and humanity of Christ.

In the last section of the creed, all that follows belief in the life giver spells out what he gives and creates. He makes the church attractive, enables members to live in a way that attracts others. This is the meaning of the original Greek word, kalos.

How suggestive is the biblical phrase “He is able:” the Spirit is dynamic. His action permeates all genuine worship, enabling us to say of the sacraments, “here, O my Lord, I see thee face to face.” The Spirit infuses a wide circle of spirituality, intermingles with creed, influences conduct, inspires all consecration, achieves a consummation. (Note the use of transitive verbs.)

This article probes a possible healing prescription derived from “essentials” and the “thrill of tradition,” not so much to describe as to outline a future for Anglicanism. It sketches what we should mean when we say, “I believe in the Lord, the Giver of Life,” and the creedal clauses which follow. To quote an article in a recent issue of the Anglican Journal, “it charts a course.”

In his review, Prof. Ritchie says that The Challenge of Tradition leaves us with “a certain vague fuzziness” concerning the specifics of Christian ethical decision making. On this point, I commend a careful survey of four ethical, difficult problems in R. Hays’s recent book, The Moral Vision of the New Testament, concerning abortion, homosexuality, racism and violence.

Another omission noted by Prof. Ritchie is the lack of any clear vision in regard to the claim of religious pluralism. To help, as a start, I recommend Bishop Ingham’s recent book, Mansions of the Spirit.

On the other hand, Ron Dart’s article in Anglican Essentials on Prophetic or Civil Religion merits widespread attention and application on the part of the church to all social and economic affairs.

Where, though, is Anglican comprehension? These essayists are like two boxers. One hopes to land a knockout punch: “The Bible says….” The other parries the blows, lands some lightning jabs, but does no lasting damage. Is this analogy too negative?

Try another: Is the Anglican way more like a large circle, inclusive rather than exclusive? But the circle ends at the circumference. I want a large circle; I want the circumference to be connected with Jesus Christ, but I must be cautious where I draw the boundaries. So, in some sense, I accept pluralism – but I have not space to flesh out this statement.

I am prepared to accept numerous interpretations, provided the evidence is not distorted. Hence, I hope this article makes it plain that both manifestos contain much that is good. I have tried to be positive and yet realistic. That is the theme of the Gospel. Dr. H.F. Woodhouse, now retired and living in Vancouver, has had a distinguished teaching career in Canada and Ireland. He wrote a standard book on the Anglican Church 1547-1603, and many articles on such special issues as compromise, which relate to present problems. He has also written a good deal on the Holy Spirit.


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