Jayma Anne Montgomery
PONDERING ANGLICAN REFORMATION
DISCLAIMER: this is the kind of topic that will puzzle the unchurched and the under-churched. Feel free to skip this one if that’s the case. If you have read my work before you probably already know that I tend to keep things interesting no matter the topic.
A lot of Christians are rethinking their faith tradition these days. Well-known Christians like Beth Moore and Russell Moore (no relation) have actually left the faith traditions in which they were born, raised, and ordained. The Moores left the Southern Baptist Convention within about a year of each other over issues pertaining to ordaining female pastors, racial tensions, political tensions, and sexual abuse scandals. I don’t think that many would argue that these issues are lightweight or unworthy of rethinking one’s religious affiliation. Beth and Russell have been equally praised and criticized as a result of their choices but have withstood the speculation with immense candor and grace, in my opinion.
As I have discussed previously, my husband and I merged onto the slow exit ramp of Evangelicalism quite a while ago. We actually considered Orthodox Christianity, Messianic Judaism, and the International Church of Christ (ICOC) before settling into regularly attending a rather laid-back Anglican church. Almost everyone we have met at this church did not originate in the Anglican church, including many of its leaders. In fact, a great many could be classified as soft Ex-vangelicals (I say soft because I rarely if ever hear anyone bashing their prior denomination).
Hubby and I have been eager to move towards becoming members for several months now but there doesn’t seem to be such a thing as haste in Anglicanism (I don’t count this as a bad thing, by the way). Our kids were baptized (dedicated to GOD and welcomed into the Anglican faith community) on Pentecost Sunday this year. See my post, Restoring the Fractured Pieces of My Faith . We recently sat through our first membership class just a few weeks ago. The fact that our Rector and Assistant Rector (pastors) deemed it important to stress that Anglicanism is a way of following Jesus rather than the only way, speaks volumes about the heart of this local ministry and why we have felt so drawn to it for well over a year now.
And now, a brief history lesson. Henry VIII was an interesting guy. He was the typical royal determined to bend any system he was a part of to suit his own interests. In this case, it was the Catholic church, whose head was and still is the Pope. Henry was seeking a divorce from the first of his many wives. In fact, there is a Broadway play called Six that focuses on the stories of these unfortunate brides. I think I will check out the tiny desk performance first, though. In any case, Henry’s wife, Catherine of Aragon, ‘failed’ to produce a male heir. He sought an annulment but was denied by the Pope. In response, the king and Parliament asserted that the crown superseded the church in 1534. There was a not-so-subtle push and pull between Catholicism and radical Protestants. Later on, King Edward VI tried to steer things more decidedly in the Protestant direction. But Queen Mary who followed him tried to steer it back to Papal authority. Under Queen Elizabeth I in 1558 the church took a decisive middle ground position between the two extremes which would later become known as a via media or ‘a middle way.’ Now this is right up one of my favorite alleys. If you know me at all, you will know that I spend a lot of time and energy harping on the importance of balanced theology, balance in your relationships, and maintaining balanced viewpoints.
America has become a place that no longer tolerates moderation. One must be entirely a Republican or a Democrat. There is no room for nuance which is actually a very important part of understanding the way the world works and what motivates human behavior. The American church has become no different. There is the conservative Evangelical church that demands that you embrace Republican politics at all costs. Then there is its counterpart, the liberal church that demands that you embrace all espoused stances of the Democratic party including blatant socialism, secularism, and broad sexual/gender ethics. To adopt a middle view between these two parties is considered high treason. Even though neither party entirely encapsulates the Christian ethos, we are constantly told that we must commit blindly to one or the other or risk the other side ruining the country. It’s utterly bonkers! I could go off on a tangent about this topic for pages but this is why I am writing a book about some of this stuff so I can elaborate to my heart’s content.
My point is this, the idea that the Christian church should entirely divorce itself from all of its rich traditions and history is ludicrous. There are many great minds who have studied and written about many of the topics that we are wrestling with today and many of us don’t even know that we have made an unconscious decision to cut ourselves off from this wealth of knowledge by participating in a ‘low church tradition.’ Don't misunderstand me, there were many blatantly wrong things going on in the Catholic Church and The Church of England that prompted the separation. What I am saying is that they wound up rejecting the good with the bad in those efforts to separate. Another thing that I appreciate about this particular branch of Anglicanism is that is allows for some freedom of expression in worship styles. It reminds me of the concept of 'ordered freedom' that NT Wright talks about. The basic idea is that a thing can't truly be free without boundaries. This is why some Anglican churches are very formal and others are much less formal unless they are celebrating Holy days. The reality is that all churches have a liturgy. They may not refer to it as such but it exists out of necessity. Attend any church long enough and you will begin to be able to predict the order of service. Even churches that follow a ‘loose’ format to allow the leading of the Holy Spirit, will almost always leave room for the preaching of the word and an altar call. Liturgy is important. It teaches us how to commune with GOD in some really meaningful ways. I love that we take communion every Sunday. ‘For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes’ (1 Cor 11: 26). There is no rule in the Bible that says communion should only be on the first Sunday of the month. Communal confession is powerful and humbling. Reading the Nicene Creed every week is comforting and instructive. I am that much more appreciative of the meanings behind these traditions having been trained up without them as a child and young adult.
Anyway, a few really great questions were posed in the class, the first of which I would like to discuss here. Why did the Anglican Church of North America not realign itself under the Church of England after breaking ties with the Episcopal church in America? First off, let me just say that the elephant in the room was humungous, loud, and flatulent. What I mean is, I couldn’t believe that no one came out and asked about the sexual conduct stuff. I don’t love discussing that stuff either and, quite frankly, I think it gets far too much attention in Christian conversations. But it is definitely a big deal. I have come to understand and appreciate how my pastors have avoided discussing such topics publicly and instead pointed to wonderful sources. They also welcome us to schedule appointments with them to explore questions/concerns in depth. I agree wholeheartedly that the issue of supreme importance is the issue of false doctrine and heresy being taught openly in the Episcopal church. Being that all of Europe, including England, is now considered largely post-Christian, I imagine that a lot of the same issues have been occurring within the Episcopal church in America are also occurring in the Anglican church of England as well. I am eager to dive into the recommended book, Never Silent, by Thaddeus Barnum which elaborates on these themes in great detail and does not hold back with respect to discussing the headline-grabbing controversies as well.
Let me conclude with this. Many problems came out of the marriage between the church and state in England. This is what motivated the Puritans to board a ship and create a new colony in America. The temptation to impose state-sponsored religion and wield its power over those we morally oppose has always been one of the great downfalls of Christianity. We see this playing out in real time with the Orthodox church supporting and even encouraging Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. The Best of Christian Compassion, The Worst of Religious Power. I think we would be foolish to think ourselves above that same temptation. Secessionists, gun-rights activists, and MAGA enthusiasts continue to peddle the false narrative of a stolen election and wrestle for GOP control of all aspects of the government. I imagine that we are merely one power-crazed leader away from becoming the Authoritarian States of America. I do not think either party is above this strategy.
I am proud to be aligned under the leadership of the Archbishops in Africa and Asia. The American church has much to learn from its brothers and sisters in these countries who are strong in faith despite violent persecution, genocide, enslavement, sex/drug trafficking, war, and crippling poverty. Our many privileges have only weakened the bond of trust and accountability between us. Some of the largest, wealthiest, and most powerful churches in our country seem to be on a quest merely to seek even more expansion, wealth, and power. GOD help us. And GOD help the Anglican Church of North America to stay committed to teaching and living out the gospel of Jesus Christ.
SIDE NOTE: There was another question regarding women leadership in the Anglican church which is a super interesting topic that I would love to touch on. But, a lunch date with a good friend and co-worker earlier this week once again reminded me that I need to learn how to be more focused and succinct in my writing. Until next time, folks!