My Bishop often refers to us Anglicans as “disciples of Christ in the Anglican Way.” Oftentimes I’ve understood that in a rather shallow manner – thinking that it was just a phrase to appease the popular mindset out there of rejecting “ism’s” in favor of the mythical “mere christian.” But after reading through some good articles lately, I’ve realized that there’s a deeper reason for referring to Anglicanism as “the Anglican way.”
For, you see, many denominations are defined by theology. Lutherans generally adhere to Martin Luther’s interpretation of scripture. Presbyterians generally adhere to John Calvin’s theology, and even Roman Catholics to their catechism. This is called confessionalism – defining the church according to a defined confession of faith. Other denominations define themselves more charismatically, according to subjective experiences such as “being born again” or “baptized in the Holy Spirit.” But Anglicanism is neither confessional nor charismatic at heart, but pragmatic.
What this means, basically, is that to be considered an Anglican you have to do what Anglicans do: be baptized, read the Scriptures, pray the Psalms, receive Eucharist regularly, engage in the discipline of common prayer, and so forth. Yes, there are confessions of faith – Creeds, catechisms, and so forth – that we can study, and yes there are subjective experiences that we can experience along the way, and we certainly have room to enjoy them, but those aren’t what define us as Anglicans. Anglicanism as a pragmatic tradition, being defined by what we do, thus has room to encompass both the confessional/intellectual/speculative side of the faith and the charismatic/mystical/affective side of the faith.
One respected writer, Martin Thornton, called this the speculative-affective synthesis. The life of the mind and the life of the heart are held together by a particular set of spiritual disciplines. This is the heart of what makes a Christian specifically an Anglican. Theologically speaking, an Anglican could resemble a Lutheran or a Roman Catholic or even an Eastern Orthodox or Calvinist. An Anglican could also be really charismatic, into the more Pentecostal side of spiritual ministry. Those things aren’t unique to Anglicanism at all, which is often why other Christians have a difficult time figuring out what Anglicans are all about.
So what is this “speculative-affective synthesis?” For the most part, it’s a contour of prayer, often described as the three-fold rule of worship. Both Anglican theology and Anglican experience is encapsulated in that liturgy, or three-fold plan of worship. And since 1549, that worship identity has been encapsulated in The Book of Common Prayer. This is a big deal for Anglicans, much to the confusion of many onlookers from other Christian traditions. Why are we so caught up with this book?
The answer is because by grounding ourselves pragmatically in worship, we are: 1) protected (somewhat) from the dangers of theological partisanship which has continually divided Protestants for centuries, and 2) grounded firmly in the Catholic tradition of theology and worship. For although the Prayerbook was written by English reformers, its content was not simply a load of Protestant reformation propaganda to support the new regime, but it also drew heavily upon the liturgical tradition of the English church for the past millennium and a half! This article does a good job of summarizing the chain of tradition and input that informs Anglican worship from the Apostles to the present day.
Lastly, I’d like to recommend this other article, as it puts forth the helpful suggestion that one of the best ways to figure out how to go forward in tumultuous times like ours is to look back at where we have already been. If we take the time to reacquaint ourselves with our forefathers in the faith, we can once again clarify who we are, and thus work out how to move forward in our own day.