As I process along the path towards ordination I have found myself fascinated with most things Anglican, and as a result have subscribed to several e-mails from various Anglican organizations. A couple of weeks ago I received an e-mail from the ACNS (Anglican Communion News Service), which featured an article by Archbishop Orombi of Uganda entitled What is Anglicanism? The article is set to appear in the journal First Things, in the August/September issue.
Upon reading it I thought that I would like to make comment on it. However, the more I re-read it the more I have found comment harder to make. More disquieting is the fact that the more I re-read it the less hope I have that common ground can be found. I’m not simply referring to common ground between the orthodox and liberal (for lack of better terms) in the church, but between east and west, north and south.
As an example, in the first five paragraphs, Abp Orombi’s focus seems to be on the fact that the Anglican church has removed the shackles of British culture. This is all well and good but cultural relativism is at least in part at the root of our current problems. After all, the North American church can argue that it is doing the things that its doing so as to respond to the culture it finds itself part of.
Slightly further on he states that “In the Church of Uganda, Anglicanism has been built on three pillars: martyrs, revival, and the historic episcopate.” This definitely stands in contrast to the three pillars of Anglicanism that I have been taught, “Scripture, tradition and reason.” Orombi then goes on to state that all three of these pillars rest on the supremacy of Scripture.
His next section on the importance of Scripture is the best and strongest part of the article. Here we see a bit of a description of the countercultural effect that Scripture had in the life of Africa in general. He states about 1/3 of the way into the article (no page numbers on the web), that, “for all God’s people, obedience to this Bible is the source of confidence, abundant life, and joy.
What disurbs my equanimity in the article is his discussion of the three pillars of African Anglicanism is that he doesn’t seem to actually think the authority of the Scripture is strong enough and that he feels the need to back it up with other authority.
I would suggest these other authorities are: In the pillar of the martyrs we are encountering the authority of suffering. A plea for greater attention to be paid to the African position because of the amount of death it has seen among its members. In the pillar of revival we are encountering the authority of experience. We have experienced more of God’s grace than the rest of the world and are willing to put it on display with public confession, etc. having grown up in a revivalist tradition in the Salvation Army, I know from my own life that public confession does not always jibe with private practice. In the pillar of the historic episcopate we are encountering the authority of authoritarianism, I found this particular true in regards to Orombi’s comments about the “intereference of the American house of Bishops.”
Perhaps the nagging feeling I have is that if we follow Abp Orombi’s lead we will end up with an Anglican church that is indistuingishable from Conservative American Evangelicalism. This feeling is particularly strong when I read the article and find almost no reference to the importance of the Eucharist to our understanding of what it means to be Anglican.
Ultimately, I think my answer to the question to “What is Anglicanism?” is: I’m not entirely sure, but somehow I think it must be something more tham Abp Orombi suggests it is. I’d like to hear what others out there think of this.