This post is a part of Rookie Anglican, a blog dedicated to Making Anglicanism Accessible.
In the summer of 2016, my wife and I were preparing to move to a new city. Leading up to the move, we often returned to a discussion of searching for a new church community. She has been raised within the Baptist tradition and I have been raised as a Pentecostal. In spite of these backgrounds and our identification with the Pentecostal church, we agreed that we would be interested in attending a more traditional church. Shortly after arriving in Kingston, I received an invitation to attend Living Waters Anglican Fellowship.
Our initial experiences at Living Waters were both confusing and intriguing. In many instances, the most peculiar components of the service were the most compelling. I didn’t understand the exact theology surrounding communion, but I could tell that there was a sincere reverence for the bread and wine.
After some time in prayer and reflection, my wife and I decided to stay at Living Waters. Though we learned a lot about this denomination in the first few months, we were still confused by Anglicanism. Because of this ongoing confusion, my pastor gave me Thomas McKenzie’s The Anglican Way.
In The Anglican Way, McKenzie provides a useful starting point for understanding the particulars of Anglican theology and practice. After reading McKenzie’s book, the impression that I have is that Anglicanism is a thriving denomination, one that embraces a diversity of perspectives and backgrounds.
This certainly wasn’t my belief before reading The Anglican Way. In my (albeit limited) personal experience, Anglicans have been both open-minded and welcoming, so I was delighted to learn that these trends are not confined to my congregation but are characteristic of many churches around the world. The emphasis on “unity in the midst of diversity” (4) makes Anglicanism very welcoming for Christians who haven’t been raised within this tradition.
McKenzie’s discussion of Holy Communion was especially enlightening. After observing communion for the first few weeks at Living Waters, I mistakenly thought that Anglicans believed in transubstantiation. As McKenzie plainly lays out, Anglicans don’t generally believe in transubstantiation, but in the “true but non-literal” consumption of Christ’s blood and body (154).
“Anglicans,” explains McKenzie, “believe that Christ is mystically present in communion” (196). The Eucharist is the most important part of an Anglican service (186), and it is during communion that the Christian experiences a “supernatural transfer […] in which God is giving us himself” (154). The humble acknowledgment of the mystery surrounding communion alongside the sincere reverence for the Eucharist makes the Anglican understanding of this sacrament very beautiful.
Bishops and Apostolic Succession
Another interesting component of McKenzie’s book is his discussion of bishops and apostolic succession. As McKenzie notes, Anglicans believe that “Bishops are the inheritors of the ministry of the Apostles,” that they are responsible for “defending the theology of the church” (230).
I certainly don’t know the history well enough to confidently declare that bishops actually do have a direct connection with the apostles. Regardless, understanding the position in this manner helps to crystallize the responsibilities that are placed on bishops. To my mind, this understanding of a bishop’s role illuminates some of the reasons behind Anglicanism’s emphasis on tradition and hierarchy.
Perhaps the main strength of McKenzie’s book is his apparent love for Christ, a love that keeps his denominational preference in its proper place: “Knowing Anglican stuff and doing Anglican stuff is not the point. Everything in this book is offered simply to know the deep love God has for you in Jesus Christ” (95).
From the outset, it is obvious that McKenzie understands and cherishes the Anglican tradition (xiii). McKenzie admits that for some Anglicans, though, this tradition has become an “idol” (95). A healthy understanding of Anglicanism, like any other Christian denomination, must begin with Christ: “Jesus Christ is the heart of the Anglican Way because he is the heart of our lives in this world and in the age to come” (7).
A denomination is simply a means to an end, and that end should always be Christ. McKenzie’s acknowledgment of this reality helps to establish the legitimacy and vibrancy of Anglicanism.
I have a few criticisms of McKenzie’s book, two of which are relatively minor and one is more substantial.
First, I think his characterization of Pentecostals is somewhat misguided. McKenzie claims that Pentecostals believe that there are “two categories of Christians,” with the higher position being reserved for those who have spoken in tongues (48). Many Pentecostals hold this view, but this certainly isn’t the case for all of us, which is my issue. McKenzie rightly explains that this belief isn’t “good Christian theology” (49). Thankfully, McKenzie’s position is one that more and more Pentecostals are starting to accept.
Second, Chapter 29: “Women in the Clergy” seems out of place. Given the importance of the topic, I would have liked to see this chapter appear earlier in the text. As it stands currently, it feels tacked-on. Simply reorganizing the chapters so that “Women in the Clergy” appears in the core of the book instead of the very end would be a welcome change.
Third, and most importantly, I have concerns with Chapter 11: “Anglicans Are on a Mission.” If my only knowledge of colonial history were McKenzie’s book, I would have the impression that Anglican missionaries almost always carried out their objectives admirably and that there were very few issues with racism/bigotry underlying Christian thought and practice in the British colonies. I find it very hard to believe that this is the case.
I recognize that McKenzie is limited by space, given that his book covers such a vast topic. Nevertheless, the space that he devotes to the history of Anglican missions does not sufficiently address the deeply sinful perspectives that have accompanied missions work in colonial history.
For some people, McKenzie’s book will simply be the beginning of their exploration of Anglican theology and practice. For others, McKenzie’s overview will be enough to make sense of Sunday morning worship, Anglican theology, church hierarchy, the calendar, and many other topics.
Regardless, The Anglican Way provides an informative and worthwhile consideration of Anglicanism, one that I’ve found beneficial.
 For those interested in a review of The Anglican Way that has a more informed understanding of Anglicanism, I recommend Greg Goebel’s: http://anglicanpastor.com/a-review-of-the-anglican-way-by-thomas-mckenzie/.