EDIT 6 Nov. 2015 – This post is a tad out of date, now that I’ve grown and learned somewhat more over the past couple years. A re-write is in order, so please take this in context of my more recent posts until I have the time to replace this.
Every Anglican and his brother seems to answer this question on their blogs or video blog at some point. Even the ACNA (the biggest Anglican body in North America besides the Episcopal Church USA) put out an “official” pamphlet of “Why Anglicanism?” So in one sense it feels silly for me to go and write my own. But the fact is that Anglicanism is a very broad tradition of Christianity, and there are many different reasons one might choose this part of the Christian Church to call home.
For all of us Christians, the first important thing that we all care about is being a Christian – a follower of Christ. This means that we believe in who Jesus is: our savior, our king, the Son of God the Father, the second Person of the Trinity, the Word made flesh. We also believe that the Bible is a unique source of truth because it is God-breathed, not simply an anthology of human writings. The questions of which church we attend, and what denomination we claim as our own, then, are secondary issues for many Christians. There are two main reasons that people would make those kinds of commitments: 1) various doctrinal convictions and 2) the definition of the Church. That’s basically what denominations are: groups of Christians who believe they have the correct teachings (doctrinal convications), and are therefore “the right church” or even “the only church.”
(Yes there are other reasons people choose church homes such as worship style, the people they meet, and convenience/geographical considerations, but these are pragmatic, not intellectual reasons, which are besides the point. If a Christian is choosing a church without being fully convinced in his own mind then his commitment to truth seems a little shakey.)
In this sense, Anglicanism is not a denomination, for there is no one set of doctrinal standard of what Anglicans believe. There is the Prayerbook and the 39 Articles both of which point to the Bible as the #1 source of doctrinal source as well as the ancient Creeds of the Church which formulate Biblical truth into authoritative summaries, but these are general enough that virtually every Christian in the world can say the same thing. When it comes down to it, an Anglican can be very Roman Catholic, very Eastern Orthodox, very Calvinist, or very Lutheran in perspective. This intersection of Catholic spirituality and practice with Reformation theological considerations makes for a difficult-to-identify mixed bag. And not only is Anglicanism broad in theological conviction, but it also makes no claim to be the whole Church, which is pretty unique.
Protestant churches all claim to have the right doctrinal convictions. Most don’t claim to be the only true church, which is good, but they’re forced to create a hierarchy with themselves on top as a result of their belief that they’ve got the right theological stances. This is part of the reason why I couldn’t content myself with joining a Protestant denomination: I’d be forced into a theological corner where I’d have to affirm a certain set of specific interpretations which I couldn’t necessarily agree with 100%, and exclude any teachings to the contrary. The Roman Catholic Church, also, claims to have all the correct doctrinal convictions, as well claiming that they’re the only true church, which again I can’t quite accept. So I can’t be Roman Catholic.
Like most Christians, I believe in the Bible, and I believe what the Creeds say about biblical truth. The Apostles’ Creed says that I believe in the Catholic Church. The Nicene Creed says that I believe in the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. I cannot, in good concience, bring myself to reinterpret some of those words to make them fit into Protestant definitions. Just to give one example, although “Apostolic” does include “apostolic teaching” which is most importantly the Bible, that’s not the whole definition of Apostolic. It also includes the visible tradition of the Apostolic Church – the organized leadership and ordered worship, both of which are redefined in every Protestant denomination in some way or other. So once again I find myself unable to choose a Protestant denomination home without having to compromise my commitment to the historic Church, and accept a newer invention of what Christianity means. On the same token, I’ve seen that Protestants do have a place in God’s kingdom; the Christian faith is truly there, so the Roman Catholic claim that they are the ‘One’ in ‘One Holy Catholic Apostolic Church’ is also erroneous. (This is also becoming increasingly evident through the former Pope’s recognition of the Eastern Orthodox Church as being part of the One Holy Catholic Apostolic Church along with the Romans, despite some contradicting doctrinal positions!)
But Anglicanism does preserve the original meaning of One Holy Catholic Apostolic Church. In a sense they do so better than Rome does, because Roman Catholics have redefined ‘Catholic’ to mean ‘in communion with the Bishop of Rome,’ therefore excluding Anglicans from counting as Catholic, even though Apostolic Succession remained unbroken even through the Reformation. Furthermore, Anglicans could be argued to be more ‘Catholic’ than Roman Catholics because of the Anglican openness to a wider spectrum of theological teaching – they’re able to encompass more perspectives and traditions than Rome can. Of course this is also a weakness: liberal Christianity has thrived in the Anglican Church. (But this doesn’t make Anglicanism inferior to other Christian traditions. No, there are a heck of a lot of liberal Roman Catholics and liberal Protestants too. So the real cause of this problem isn’t so much in Anglican ‘openness’ as it is in the drive for cultural accomodation, which has hit every Christian tradition hard in the past couple centuries.)
So that’s basically my angle on why I’ve gone Anglican. It’s a very ‘Catholic’ line of reasoning that got me here, which has caused me continual confusion of late as to whether I should call myself an Anglo-Catholic or not. Part of that confusion is due to the fact that there are many ways of defining Anglo-Catholic (worship traditions, theological perspectives, favorite prayerbook edition, etc.). A similar question I’ve been asking myself much of this year, too, is if being a Catholic Christian or being an Anglican Christian is more important to me. When I think it all through (as I have done in the flow of this blog post), it becomes clear that my underlying desire is to be a Catholic Christian. But in order to be the best Catholic Christian I can be, the Anglican tradition is the place that I must call home.