Monday, May 11, 2009

You guys win. Henry VIII founded Anglicanism.

Those of us who love the Episcopal Church have been trained to resist the old slogan, "Henry VIII founded his own church." We point out that Reformation ideas were spreading among clergy and people before Henry did a thing; we remind people that the Pope called Henry "Defender of the Faith" for upholding Catholic belief and practice; we hold up the Book of Common Prayer as the evidence that it wasn't until Elizabeth I that Anglicanism as we know it really took shape.

Today, I officially drop all those and any other counter arguments. Our Anglican DNA is the political and legal manipulation that Henry used to justify his various needs. Our form of religion is less about Christ the Lord and the kingdom of heaven and more about eartly entitlements and institutions.

I'm not going to throw the twists, turns, cast of characters, endless acronyms and other facets of a recent Anglican meeting at you. There's a fine lawyer's fine analysis here, a letter from a Seminary Dean here, video and other coverage here, and for good measure some think tank commentary here.

Bottom line: Anglicanism is an interminable litany of political power claims. From Henry's assertion of authority over the church, to British Colonialism, to maintaining social class distinctions (as true in American Episcopalianism as in the Church of England), Anglicanism always manages to put Christianity second to some other agenda.

This is not to say that Anglicanism is without brilliant exemplars of holiness throughout its history, including the present time. But these tend to be "points of interest" on an otherwise underwhelming journey.

Some will argue, "That's true in every church." I disagree. Other churches lapse into manipulation and manuevering while contending for major issues of faith - Anglicanism alludes to big ideas only when they might support a claim to title, entitlement or property.

I'm not yet sure what to do with this sudden collapse of my well practiced denial. For me, the church as "embassy", a witness on Earth to "our citizenship in heaven", is at the foundation of my understanding of Christianity and certainly my identity as an ordained minister. All that is called into question by my allegiance to Henry VIII's support group.


tjmcmahon said...

Fr. Timothy,
I find myself sharing much of your thinking. There are two courses of action that suggest themselves-

First- ban all acronyms- each acronym is a symbol of the confusion and division of the church. The grave error of Gafcon and ANCA is that they have perpetuated and expanded on this error in Anglicanism.

Second- seek full communion with one of the Orthodox sees. Lets get about the work of putting the Church back together, instead of splitting it into more pieces. What motivation does the ACNA, for example, have to align with Canterbury, after witnessing what we have seen in the last few days?

TLF+ said...

tjmcmahon - your last question is so important. The longer ACNA seeks Canterbury's "recognition", the longer it is entangled with TEC and all the sick politics.

There's a worry I have that the game-playing is its own reward for those involved. A few years ago, a priest far more "progressive" than I spoke of annual diocesan convention politics as "the activists of right and left seeking to make us spear carriers in their opera."

Peter said...


The ACNA hasn't exactly went out of its way to get a pat on the head from Canterbury. Some people think that's a bug, but a lot of us join you in the camp of seeing it as a feature...

Scott said...

I have been following your blog for quite awhile and this has been your most interesting post thus far. First of all, I am not Anglican. I don't technically have a denominational allegiance although I consider myself to be some form of anabaptist/orthdox/anglican. Whatever that means. I working on my MDiv at a Mennonite Brethren Seminary and am very happy there.

I have at many times thought about officially joining a more historical church body. In fact, a couple of years ago I almost became Orthodox.

However, my draw to Anglicanism waxes and wains.

I am drawn to the theology of certain authors (CS Lewis, NT Wright, and others.)

I am drawn to the connection with historic Christianity (apostolic succession, sacramental theology, etc.)

I am drawn to the openness to integrate current expressions of worship along with classic liturgy.

But I am not drawn to the Episcopal Church. There is a sense of politics and power which were opposed by Jesus. The offices of Bishop and Priest seemed to often places of dominance than places of ministry.

I am also not drawn to any of newer expressions of Anglicanism in North America. These groups (CANA, AMiA, etc.) Seem to perpetuate schismatic protestantism.

If, as a previous commenter noted, one of the schismatic groups came under the authority of an Orthodox see or at least enter full communion with Canterbury I believe a much more faithful argument could be made for their existence.

Floridian said...

You said it, Tim+

"Anglicanism always manages to put Christianity second to some other agenda."
"Henry VIII's support group" - Hah!

You are always so very perceptive and brutally honest.

May His truth, love and mercy overflow us, wake, wash and empower us us.

Alice C. Linsley said...

I worship at an Antiochian Orthodox church which is traced back to the church in Antioch which commissioned St. Paul and St. Barnabus to evangelize. Our Metropolitan, Phillip, has his headquarters on the "Street called Straight" in Damascus. Our liturgy is that of St. John Chrysostum and St. Basil the Great. If Anglicanism is simply the product of Henry's problems, I doubt we would find so much in the Book of Common Prayer that reads almost verbatim to the ancient liturgies I mention. (Of course, I'm referring to the TRUE BCP, not the 1979 ECUSA book.)

Also, Father, I regret that you closed comments on the post on Feminism. I'd have liked to post a comment. Your readers might be interested in this piece I wrote which drew some feminist ire, but oh well, that's what keeps the movement going since it stands on so little that is factual, real or truthful:

Anonymous said...

Your realization is one that struck me a couple of years ago. What you describe is the fact that God in Christ and his will were secondary to Henry in his act of establishing the English Church. God and his will were surely important to Henry, but not the most important thing--other things which you well describe--objects of Henry's will and desire--took precedence. And so they continue to take precedence today in our Anglicanism.

The question is, as you well ask, what do we do about this realization? Almost 500 years have not changed the situation. Does God honor such an enterprise?

TLF+ said...

Thanks for all of the good thoughts and comments, all.

I think God is judging Anglicanism right now. That's why chaos is reigning and many of our efforts do not prosper.

What to do? I wish I had an answer. At this point, I find myself drawn to Amos 5:13 - "Therefore the prudent man keeps quiet in such times, for the times are evil." Or maybe Ezekiel 3:15, "Then I came to them of the captivity at Tel-abib, who sat and dwelt by the river of Chebar, and I sat where they sat and remained there among them seven days, overwhelmed with astonishment and silent."

I Have Been Baptized said...

Good for you!

Sorry I'm just reading this at the end of June.

Yes, ECUSA always puts the Gospel second. Nowadays, it's second to secular humanism. In the "olden days," it was second to the Blue Book--I mean the Social Register, from which the Episcopal Blue Book disappointingly took its name.

Now, we borrow "ubuntu" from Linux users.

It's a reversal worthy of a medieval Latin poem: DAR is changed into "rad" (man!)

I think that Anglicanism for five hundred years has been an excellent sham church. Wink and nod, don't you know, old chap.

Samuel Johnson, the great English writer and critic, commented on the popular heroine Clarissa, from the novel of Samuel Richardson: "There is always something which she prefers to the truth."

He might as well have been speaking of the state religion. Interestingly, the author of Clarissa was a Puritan.

Your conclusion now begs one further choice. Do you choose Rome or Geneva?

TLF+ said...

Been Baptized: God has constrained me in ways too numerous (and probably boring) to share here. It is clear that I am being "refined" for something - God's not made clear what that is to be. I am having to walk by faith and take very small steps right now.

Also, the decision is not mine alone. I have a good congregation which is receiving daily blessings and being guided into ministry with impact well beyond our modest size. I think that any "what's next" decisions will involve many of them - not just a personal move on my part. And it is entirely possible that God will say "stand fast" for His own reasons.