Anglicanism is Not Denominational

By |2018-08-13T15:44:53+00:00April 25th, 2017|Categories: Anglican Life|12 Comments

Mere Christianity

C.S. Lewis wrote that the various Christian groups are like rooms in a great hallway. The shared central beliefs of our Faith are the great hallway, but the various communions are the rooms. Each person finds the room that fits them best (baptist, presbyterian, Roman Catholic, etc), but must remember that we are all in the same house and share that same “mere Christianity”.

Lewis was an Anglican, but he didn’t mention that much when he was writing this in Mere Christianity because Anglicans love to hang out mostly in the hallway. This is why Lewis was so well suited to write such a classic Christian book in the first place, a book beloved by people in almost every Christian communion.

Sometimes you’ll hear someone refer to an Anglicanism as a “denomination.” Often this is used as shorthand to mean “particular Christian body.” However, Anglicanism is not a denomination. Instead, it is a Christian communion that doesn’t subscribe to denominational theology. This is probably why Lewis chooses to use the word ‘communions’ and puts “denominations” in quotes.

Denominationalism

Denomination is not a neutral word. If we use it, there are a few assumptions that go along with it. Denominations are typically organized around a very specific theological approach, a singular historical figure or a historic experience. “Non-Denom” has become its own denomination, because it is typically organized around one of these three things but just at a more local level than the national denominations.

A Christian Communion

Instead, we Anglicans are trying to be a non-sectarian Christian communion rather than a denomination. And we think the more we Christians split into personalized denominations, the further we get from unity. If we refer to ourselves as a ‘communion’ then we are trying to stay away from the idea that we are organized around a specific speculative theology, a historic experience, or a singular person.

And that in a nutshell is why Anglicanism is not denominational, making us a truly “non-denominational” church.  That’s why we aren’t the “Cranmerians.”  We don’t have a confessional theology that is more specific than the creeds and we don’t consider the teachings of any one historic Anglican leader to be normative. Our 39 Articles are not a confession or creed, but guide our discipline as a church. We have calvinists, arminians, charismatics, reformed, evangelicals, wesleyans and many more among us – and we love it. We have Rome orientated Anglicans and Eastern oriented Anglicans, as well as those who emphasis the main themes of the Protestant Reformation. We aren’t sectarian, so we end up having various types of Anglicans existing among us,  so long as all confess the historic creeds and remain in communion.

The Unity of the One Body of Christ

Today, despite our divisions, we believe Christians are united in baptism. Baptism in water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit is practiced by Christian bodies all over the world, is connected to the command of Christ, and the practices of the Church historically.

However, the unity that Christ prayed for goes beyond even this. He prayed that we would all be One, and despite our shared baptism and history, we aren’t one today. Anglicans believe that we should do our part to bring about that unity by being visibly united with the Church of the past and the Church of the present. Not just invisibly, but visibly. That’s why we accept the baptism of those who come to us from other communions.

We also try to stay in the Great Hallway by seeking to avoid requiring people to believe any particular speculative theology, or urging them to copy a previous movement or experience, or requiring them to follow a specific Anglican teacher in all things.

Failure

In practice, we fail at this. You’ll find Anglican churches that teach calvinism as if St. Paul himself was Calvin’s ghost writer, others that urge everyone to have exactly the same experience of the Holy Spirit that one particular church in Connecticut had in the 1970s, and some who make Thomas Cranmer a Protestant Pope. You’ll also find some that talk about the medieval Roman Catholic Church as if it were a golden era, fixed eternally in time as the standard. And then others who believe that the 1662 or 1928 prayer books were nearly as inspired as Holy Scripture. A few ignore everything in Church History before 1500, and others ignore everything after 1500! And of course our Communion has been fracturing these past two or three decades. Yes, we fail at the ideal, but we still strive for it and believe in it.

Occasionally, such as when Lewis wrote Mere Christianity, the fruit of this approach is borne, and we have a great gift to offer the wider Church.

Historic and Global Connection

Christ intended us to be One Church with various gifts. The best way to get back to that, over time, is to remain rooted to the Creeds, ancient church order, and historic patterns. We don’t see ourselves as a church that was newly created during the Reformation period. We see ourselves as a church that was founded in the days of the early Church, then travelled to England, then was reformed, then spread throughout the world.

We don’t mean that we are only the same as the Early Church in our beliefs, but also that we are part of the same historic, ecclesiastical body as the early church. And we are in visible communion with others across the globe, not just in one culture or country, not just in sentiment or in beliefs, but in visible communion.

So, thats why most Anglicans usually prefer not to be referred to as a ‘denomination’ but instead as a ‘Christian communion’ or perhaps a ‘Christian church’ as a way of seeking to emphasize the fact that we are part of the One Body of Christ. We appreciate, accept and love our denominational brothers and sisters, but we don’t subscribe to the ‘denominational’ approach.

Greg is the founder of Anglican Pastor. He is an Anglican Priest of the Anglican Church in North America. He served in a non-denominational church before being called into the Anglican church in 2003. He has served as an Associate Pastor, Parish Administrator, and Rector. He currently serves as the Canon to the Ordinary for the Anglican Diocese of the South.

12 Comments

  1. Greg Goebel April 25, 2017 at 1:19 pm - Reply

    sure, just did!

  2. Ted Schroder April 25, 2017 at 8:49 pm - Reply

    I have been an Anglican for 75 years and ordained 50 years. For 22 of those years I have served in interdenominational ministries quite happily. However my experience in the denomination (yes it is) belies your argument. While the evangelical mindset is not denominational the institution is very denomination ally exclusive, clubby and elitist.

  3. elsglobal April 26, 2017 at 10:55 am - Reply

    To me, this sounds like a “speculative theology” that binds Anglicans together as a denomination albeit a much looser one that most denominations- “Today, despite our divisions, we believe Christians are united in baptism. Baptism in water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit is practiced by Christian bodies all over the world, is connected to the command of Christ, and the practices of the Church historically.”

  4. Robert Harrison May 1, 2017 at 10:32 am - Reply

    You say, “We don’t have a confessional theology that is more specific than the creeds and we don’t consider the teachings of any one historic Anglican leader to be normative. Our 39 Articles are not a confession or creed, but guide our discipline as a church. We have calvinists, arminians, charismatics, reformed, evangelicals, wesleyans and many more among us – and we love it. We have Rome orientated Anglicans and Eastern oriented Anglicans, as well as those who emphasis the main themes of the Protestant Reformation. We aren’t sectarian, so we end up having various types of Anglicans existing among us, so long as all confess the historic creeds and remain in communion.” This is precisely the problem that destroyed the ECUSA. A denominational name signifies it’s theology. Surely you won’t say that someone who holds to Papist soteriology has the assurance of salvation? Article XXXIV states, “It is not necessary that Traditions and Ceremonies be in all places one, or utterly like; for at all times they have been divers, and may be changed according to the diversity of countries, times, and men’s manners, so that nothing be ordained against God’s Word. Whosoever, through his private judgment, willingly and purposely, doth openly break the Traditions and Ceremonies of the Church, which be not repugnant to the Word of God, and be ordained and approved by common authority, ought to be rebuked openly, (that others may fear to do the like,) as he that offendeth against the common order of the Church, and hurteth the authority of the Magistrate, and woundeth the consciences of the weak brethren.” So, I don’t think you can get much more confessional or denominational. I wonder if you have a good grasp of the BCP or the 39 Articles. Theology may not matter to nondenominational Christians, but Anglicanism is distinctive. Church is not like Starbucks where you have many choices, but say that it’s all just basically coffee anyway. If North American Anglicanism doesn’t figure out that theology matters then it will go the way of ECUSA. The very thought that a Church would jeopardize someones eternal salvation for the lack of theological distinctiveness is disturbing because in the end, theology is a salvation issue.

    • Greg Goebel May 1, 2017 at 3:07 pm - Reply

      Thank you Robert. I don’t see where my article suggests that theology is unimportant. In the portion of my article that you quote I state that the Articles are for discipline, which is exactly the point of Article 34.

      Personally I don’t think becoming more sectarian in order to guard orthodoxy is the right path. We should become more robustly credal and orthodox.

  5. Doug May 12, 2017 at 9:51 am - Reply

    That’s a bit rich and self -congratulating, especially considering the ACNA’s separation from the Episcopal Church. This was of course entirely necessary, and I in fact participated through an ACNA founding NoVa congregation. Anglicanism and the denominations within are certainly denominations by any standard measure. Liberality in the sacraments and mode of worship does not make us exceptional in this way, and we should not announce this understanding to others. I’ve heard Lutherans proclaim themselves the only true biblical church..because, they are Lutherans of course. The key is to hold your heritage (denomination) loosely knowing it will certainly not survive as God’s people are eventually brought together.

    • Greg Goebel May 12, 2017 at 11:31 am - Reply

      I’m not sure why several commenters think that avoiding the denominational label is equal to claiming that we are the one true church. I did not intend to say that in any way. Quite the opposite. None of this denies the practical reality of institutions either (e.g. ACNA). So personally I don’t see the connection between claiming to be a catholic communion rather than a denomination and also claiming to be the only true church.

      • Doug May 22, 2017 at 3:02 pm - Reply

        What you seem to claim is the one true non-denom. Still don’t make it so..

  6. Tom Covino August 10, 2017 at 9:40 am - Reply

    My name is Tom. I became a Christian around the age of 33. I was brought up being raised a Catholic. When I was handed a bible and told to begin in the Gospel of Matt, it became quite apparent that what Jesus Christ was saying and what the Catholic Church taught was very different.
    Moving forward through the birth of the church in the book of Acts regarding entrance into the church and His body, has been, over much time, one of the main differences and the cause of denominations. Having said that, here is my main point… ” they were first called CHRISTIANS in Antioch” Acts 11:26

    If we really want unity, why not remove Lutheran, Presbyterian, Catholic or Anglican? And simply be Christians? After all, the Apostle Paul write NOT to any of those groups , but to the Church at Ephesus , the church at Thessalonica, The church at Rome etc… they were all disciples of Christ called Christians. They had no vain traditions or commandments of men, and no personal or dividing names that might cause division.

    This is what I teach and preach as a servant of God and His son Jesus Christ.

    Thank you for allowing me to offe some thoughts.

    Tom Covino

    • Greg Goebel August 10, 2017 at 9:44 am - Reply

      Thanks Tom. I think that should be our goal too. In the meantime it is not clear to me how we could abandon the various traditions and still remain connected. In other words they give us the ability to commune and to connect.

    • Gregory Tipton August 10, 2017 at 10:05 pm - Reply

      I like Lewis. But if the Church is made up of multiple bodies, body politics, whether its pentecostal, anglican, baptist, methodist, or whatever — then The Church, Christ’s Body is made up of multiple bodies. Whereas a hydra splits and multiplies heads when cuts occur, here we have an Ecclesiology of the reverse hydra, Jesus’ body multiplies everytime there’s a schism. This can hardly be called fully Man and fully God, but it certainly would be fully Monstrous.

    • Selina August 3, 2018 at 7:28 am - Reply

      WELL SAID TOM COVINO!!!! AMEN, AND AMEN!!!

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