Yet another definition of what it means to be Anglican

Mark Harris calls our attention to a recent report from the Working Party on Theological Education in the Anglican Communion.

In its report, the party writes: “TEAC participants then traveled to Kandy for a day of interactions at the Theological College of Lanka, the ecumenical college founded jointly to provide theological education together for Anglicans, Methodists, Presbyterians and Baptists. Here TEAC members listened to the challenges facing the college and the special opportunities these offered as well as sharing insights from the four-fold shape of the Anglican Way of being formed by Scripture, shaped by worship, ordered for Communion and directed by God’s mission.”

The emphasis is Mark’s, and it is well placed. He writes:

One of the reasons I am opposed to a greater layering of the Anglican Communion is that committees or working parties or commissions and such on an Anglican Communion wide level are given to making statements about what it is to be Anglican, statements which go unchallenged and unnoticed, until one day, voila, they become the voice of Anglicanism and more or less institutionalized writ.

Where did the idea “the four-fold shape of the Anglican way” come from, and how did the recitation of the way as one “formed by Scripture, shaped by worship, ordered for Communion and directed by God’s mission” come to be determined? Probably in a document of some Commission, or a paper at a meeting of TEAC. But who knows?

The thing is, it doesn’t matter where it came from. The notion that there is an Anglican Way is a bit mythological, just as is the notion that there is an Anglican method. In any event we might notice that reason gets the short straw and is not mentioned, worship trumps sacrament (particularly baptism and Eucharist which I hope forms us more than worship), the Communion (shall we read The Anglican Communion?) is something that orders us and God’s Mission (which I am all for) gets made a direction rather than a way of being. And notice the verbs: formed, shaped, ordered, directed. Get the picture?

This isn’t trivial stuff. The “Instruments of Communion” or Unity or whatever the heck you want to call them were first named in the Virginia Report. That document was never formally accepted by any pan-Anglican body, yet the instruments operate as though they exercise legitimate governing powers (which no one gave them) on behalf of a global “Anglican Church” which does not exist.

On a related matter, there are intelligent and well-intentioned folks in the Episcopal Church who don’t like the fact that we tend to do our theology by legislation in a big sprawling elected assembly. They would prefer gathering highly-qualified people to compose balanced and nuanced statements in quiet rooms. That idea gives some of us the willies. And the phenomenon that Mark describes is among the reasons why.

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