AGAIN: Turning from the ancient to the modern, can you give us an overview of the state of Anglicanism today? Orthodox Christians in America need to know about the Anglican communion in order to have a fruitful dialogue with individual Anglicans and Episcopalians and with their parishes as they live out their own witness of the Orthodox faith.
TM: It is important for me to explain just a little bit how the Anglican compromise has resulted in such interesting things in terms of structure, which has so much to do with the current problems. The more conservative elements of Anglicanism tend to be its most Protestant elements, and its most liberal elements are usually people who think of themselves as highly catholic. . . .
The heart of the Anglican compromise boils down to putting St. John Chrysostom and John Calvin in the same pew. But neither one of those men want to be there. There are things on which they do not agree with each other, and they would not compromise. And yet the Anglican compromise tried to have both sides of a Protestant and ancient equation be equal. You simply can’t pull that off.
People need to understand that there are very strong parts of Anglicanism that are rigorously Protestant. Some of the liveliest Anglicanism you will meet in the world is thoroughly Reformed, very Calvinistic. This is the John Stott and J. I. Packer wing of low-church Anglicanism. In that context, you will find a heavy emphasis on congregationalism. They will be very Protestant, and this is probably the most conservative and biblical part of modern Anglicanism. That’s where, for the most part, you had the missionary societies that went to the Third World. Then you have the traditional branch that would be called Anglo-Catholic, which would deny or water down a lot of the Protestant side of the compromise and put a much heavier, more Roman emphasis on ecclesiology, on the role of the bishop, on church tradition as a part of interpreting Scripture as opposed to sola scriptura””a very consciously Catholic element. . . .
Anglicans are highly skilled and genuinely talented in compromise. When you say that Anglicanism is the church of the via media””the middle way””that implies a kind of compromise position between two camps that often don’t want to compromise. And on moral and social issues, what you have ended up with is a never-ending march to the left””because you’re constantly compromising on the church traditions of the ages. This steadily, slowly but surely, pulls you to the theological left on critical issues. . . .
Episcopal bishop William Frey used to say that Anglicans have been doing this via media theological method for so long they can’t stop. As he put it, if one side says Jesus is Lord, and the other side says Jesus is not Lord, the Anglican compromise is Jesus is occasionally Lord. He meant that as a joke, but you can see that in the history of the Frey Amendment. [Editor’s note: This was a failed attempt by traditionalists to make a doctrinally conservative addition to Episcopal Church law.] Frey said Episcopal clergy must not be sexually active outside of marriage. That leads to a theological statement: Sex outside of marriage is sin. But the other side says sex outside of marriage is not always a sin. Which means the Anglican compromise is sex outside of marriage is occasionally sin. The left isn’t happy, and the right isn’t happy, but you have moved in the leftward direction. You’ve compromised the absolute truth of an ancient doctrine. That’s how the mechanism works.
Right now, what we have is two groups of true believers who don’t want to compromise. It’s so interesting that sexuality ended up being the line in the sand, when it could have been””and I argued it should have been””the Resurrection. Why when Anglican bishops began to deny historic doctrines related to the Incarnation and Resurrection and salvation through Christ alone, and other critical doctrines, why didn’t the war break out then? Whereas now it has broken out over sexuality.
AGAIN: Why do you think that is so?
TM: My own hunch is that first of all sexuality gets covered in the media, whereas a doctrine about theological language is harder for the press to cover. The other thing frankly is that the theological left has learned how to state its beliefs about Resurrection and Incarnation in a way that sounds OK. And, they’re very hard to pin down. In other words, you could talk about the hope of the Resurrection, but you’ve redefined what all the words mean. You need to understand that Anglicanism defines itself as being united by certain liturgical texts””but you don’t have to all agree on what the words mean. A lot of Anglicans will say it’s important that when they say the Creed, instead of saying “I believe,” most Anglican churches say, “We believe.” Meaning the body affirms this, but it is not necessary for the individual to do the same.
AGAIN: Since issues of sexuality have been what has sparked the current conflicts, though, do you have thoughts in general on how that is playing out? Where are the lines being drawn? And, to what extent are the issues of sexuality bound up with the related issues of gender in general, like say the female priesthood?
TM: For the Anglicans, sexual issues do not automatically connect with gender issues, even though Orthodox would see that they do. For a lot of Protestant Anglicans, remember that they are placing more of an emphasis on congregationalism and less on classic catholic orders. So, there are a lot of charismatic Episcopalians and evangelical Episcopalians who have no problem with the ordination of women, because their concept of priesthood is subtly different from those who see it in the full catholic sense. Even though they are conservative, the ordination of women was not a make-or-break issue for them. They don’t connect it with the transcendent, sacramental understanding of what the priesthood is, because their theology is more Protestant and more Reformed. There’s this very low church Protestant element there that can be conservative on some issues but not on others that the Orthodox would see.
AGAIN: It seems that something the Orthodox need to keep in mind in their encounters with Anglicans is that they need to be prepared to speak to two different audiences. On the one hand, you have the more Protestant wing, where you may have more agreement on questions of, say, scriptural truth and their application to social issues. And on the other hand, there is the more Catholic side of the Anglican communion, where you may have some common ground about, for example, sacramentalism and mystery in the faith.
TM: There are still conservative Anglo-Catholics, but not as many. The most vital and alive conservative elements in modern Anglicanism are charismatic or evangelical low-church Anglicans. There are still some very high-church, fully Catholic Anglicans. But I find it very interesting that modern liberal Anglicanism tends to identify much more with a high-church, liturgical smells-and-bells approach to Anglicanism.
This makes many Orthodox confused, because they see these people and they say, gosh, they even have icons in their church. We have a lot in common with them. When theologically, you may have almost nothing in common with them. And then you walk into another Anglican church, and it will be like a megachurch. There will be a rock band, and it will be very low church. The liturgy may be much more informal, but their view of morality and basic doctrines and biblical authority and ancient traditions of the Church would be much closer to the Orthodox””even though it doesn’t look like it in terms of style.
The whole interview is here.
This elf’s opinion? TMatt not only “Gets Religion” but he really gets Anglicanism too!