Bridging the Divide Between Anglo-Catholic and Evangelical
- Gordon Anderson
It was with great interest that I read “C. S. Lewis, 20 Years On” by Roger Beckwith, and the related articles by Drs. Bayer and Harp, that were published in the last issue of Anglican Way. Beckwith writes that Lewis desired Evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics lay aside their rivalries in order to face a common enemy, and then laments that the rivalry has continued up to the writing of his article (1986). He offers eight suggestions as to how Anglo-Catholics and Evangelicals can bridge their divide and put an end to their rivalry.
These articles inspired me to offer a list of practical suggestions, based on my own personal experience as a priest of ten years, about ways that Anglo-Catholics and Evangelicals can bridge the divide that still sometimes separates us.
Expand your reading: If you are an evangelical Anglican used to reading books by authors like J.I. Packer, Alistair McGrath, why not try reading some works by some older Anglo-Catholic theologians, such as E.L. Mascall or C.B. Moss? And staunch Anglo-Catholics of course should do the opposite from time to time. It goes without saying that Anglicans of all stripes should read C.S. Lewis, who was the most visible and prominent Anglican thinker of the 20th century and still very much relevant today. We should also stay abreast of more contemporary mainstream Anglican scholars such as N.T. Wright, the late John Macquarrie, and even Rowan Williams. And finally we should take time to read writers of other traditions, because doing so can shed an enormous amount of light on our own tradition. Broad reading, across disciples and traditions expands the mind, and helps dispel prejudices and misunderstandings between people and movements. And don’t dismiss a classic text because you heard there is something in it with which you may disagree! It will be beneficial to you in other ways. Case in point, I recently read The Shape of the Liturgy by Dom Gregory Dix, which is famous for, among other things, trashing the classical Anglican liturgy in the end. Needless to say, I don’t agree with everything in the book. But it is still worth checking out. Overall it is good and contains some incredible eucharistic theology and interesting historical information. More important, it has expanded my mind and helped me understand more of the background behind the 20th century Liturgical Movement. So it was definitely a worthwhile read. Expand your reading to expand your mind so God may use you to expand His Church!
Get out of your own Anglican and Christian bubble: Too often we get trapped in our own little Anglican ghettoes. This can have the negative effect of skewing our understanding of the Anglican and larger Christian tradition. It is amazing how many Anglican parishes are in close proximity to each other but never have any contact! Opportunities for fellowship activities abound. Plan some joint activities with other Anglican churches in your area to get to know each other and figure out how to build the Kingdom of God together. If, for whatever reason, you are not in sacramental communion with these churches, or feel uncomfortable about gathering at with them at Lord’s Table, you can always share Morning or Evening Prayer and other fellowship and devotional activities. Lent is an especially good time to get together and have joint activities, as are high Holy Days, such as Ascension Day. It is a truism that with personal acquaintance many of our prejudices and suspicions disappear. The same is true in the Church. Anglo-Catholics and Evangelicals can learn a lot from each other by sharing in worship and fellowship. In my time as a parish priest I have involved my churches in ecumenical services with other Anglicans from different continuing churches, Reformed Episcopal parishes, and ACNA parishes. Each time we did this we have learned something from the other churches. We have also built up lasting bonds of friendship and Christian love between us and our respective jurisdictions. This past summer our parish hosted a Duke Divinity School student and an ACNA postulant, as part of a joint effort with our local ACNA parish. All of this helps us get to know our fellow believers, understand them more, and perhaps more importantly, help them understand us. And it leads to healing and reconciliation in the mystical Body of Jesus Christ.
Check pride at the door and don’t make blanket assumptions about Anglican from other traditions: Don’t assume that just because some Anglicans don’t use the same service books as you do that they are not true Anglicans or even Christians. An evangelical Anglican priest once remarked to me how amazed he was that the people of a local continuing church were actually real Christians, and devoted and dedicated ones at that! An Anglo-Catholic priest was once shocked to find a rosary and some icons in the car of an Evangelical priest! Why should we be so surprised when we have experiences like this? Instead, we should realize that people have different personalities, backgrounds, and experiences that have lead them to the Anglican churches where they worship. One cannot assume that just because a person attends an “Evangelical” parish that he or she has no interest in church history or sacramental theology. Likewise one cannot assume that just because a person attends a very formal, liturgical Anglo-Catholic parish that he or she has no interest in the Gospel or evangelism. So give your Anglican brethren from other churches and their traditions the benefit of the doubt and throw some of your presuppositions about them out the window.
Personally I find the old Anglo-Catholic/Evangelical divide to be an anachronism that does the Church more harm than good. Continually dwelling on that old battle creates an “us versus them” mentality, and strikes a mortal wound to the unity we share as members of the Body of Christ. Furthermore, it does not do justice to nuances of history, scripture, theology, and tradition, and is a distraction to the Church’s mission to “Go make disciples of all nations.” Let’s all work together to conquer the divide and heal the Body of Christ so we may witness to his grace and mercy in the world. These three suggestions are a good way to begin.
The Very Rev’d J. Gordon Anderson is rector of St. Alban’s Anglican Church (APA), in Joppa, MD. He serves as area dean for the Mid-Atlantic Deanery and as a board member of the Prayer Book Society.