Friends have recently asked me why I am an Anglican–instead of a Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox–Christian. Given the similarities between the traditions (Creedal orthodoxy, liturgical worship, sacramental theology), I think it’s a fair question.
I have certainly felt the tug toward Constantinople and a draw to “swim the Tiber” as well. When a church is so ancient–and has compelling claims as a result to the “fullness” of the truth–I think one must seriously consider those claims. I look forward to a day when our three churches are in full communion. I am encouraged by recent dialog between Anglican Church in North America, the Pope, and Orthodox Church in America. I have Anglican friends who have ended up going to both churches, and friends that have come to Anglicanism from both churches.
Nevertheless, I am very nearly convinced that classical Anglicanism is in doctrine and practice the most consistent with the apostolic faith as it was understood by the early (first 500 years) and undivided church. When Anglicanism is most true to those roots as they were formally articulated during the English Reformation, it seems to maintain catholicity while avoiding what seem to me to be the most egregious errors of the Roman and Eastern expressions.
Basically, Anglicanism adheres to catholic (universal, undivided) doctrine, practice and order, without elevating adiaphora (important, but secondary doctrines) to dogma (essential beliefs), and without requiring beliefs that simply cannot be proved from Holy Scripture as it has been historically interpreted by the faithful.
Examples of catholicity include:
- Nicene orthodoxy
- Agreement with the ecumenical councils of the undivided church
- Threefold orders of deacon, priest, and bishop
- Sacramental theology
- Valid apostolic succession
- Deuterocanonical books used liturgically
Examples of adiaphora and errors include:
- Requiring or forbidding the veneration of icons and saints (adiaphora)
- Papal infallibility (error – this is neither supported by Holy Scripture nor substantial church tradition)
- Exclusive claims to being “the one true church” (error – other churches preach the Gospel, adhere to the creeds, and stand in apostolic succession)
- Recognizing 7 sacraments (adiaphora)
- Liturgy not in the vernacular of the people (error – worship that is impossible to understand on a deep level cannot form the congregation spiritually; the early church worshiped in common languages)
- The filioque (adiaphora)
- Very specific theologies of election (adiaphora)
- Mode of baptism (adiaphora)
- Beliefs about Mary like her immaculate conception, her dormition, her perpetual virginity (adiaphora)
As much as I have in common with my Roman Catholic brothers and sisters, my rejection of Papal Infallibility automatically places me outside the boundaries of acceptable Roman Catholic beliefs. Similarly, my desire to remain in communion with churches that ordain women, are capital “R” Reformed, and that do not recognize all seven sacraments isn’t a viable position for a faithful Orthodox Christian.
So if I want to be truly catholic, Patristic, and submissive to a church that teaches what the Apostles and the early church received as “the faith once delivered,” Anglicanism is my only spot to land.