What does it mean to be Anglican, particularly in the Melbourne Diocese – “the most diverse in Australia?” Kevin Giles reflects.
For those of us who are part of the Diocese of Melbourne it is important that we reflect on what it means to be an Anglican, or to use contemporary terminology, what is distinctive about Anglican ‘spirituality’. We are the most diverse diocese in Australia. On the theological level we have anglo-catholic, liberal catholic, reformed evangelical, evangelicals of other persuasions and charismatic parishes well represented, growing numbers of Chinese congregations and several other ethnic parishes, as well as a complete range of ages. What we see in our diocese at a micro level is magnified on the world scene.
Today, the Anglican Communion is an association of national Anglican churches organised as dioceses in 160 countries with a membership of approximately 80 million people. Following the Reformation of the church in England in the 16th century, catholic and evangelical emphases were from this point part of Anglicanism. The theological differences were for centuries contained within a common liturgical practice grounded in English culture. However in recent times doctrinal, liturgical and cultural diversity has become more pronounced and so differing spiritualities live side by side within Anglicanism. Today the Anglican Communion embraces evangelicals and anglo-catholics (with liberal and conservative strands in both cases), theological radicals and demonstrative charismatics, all modified by the ethnic and cultural variety of the Communion.
Each of the theological streams within Anglicanism have their spiritual giants, people who exemplify the spirituality of their distinctive Anglican heritage. For evangelical Anglicans the great 16th century Reformers who sought to purify the doctrine of the church by appeal to scripture have a special place. These include William Tyndale (1494-1536); Archbishop Thomas Cranmer (1489-1556), and Bishop Nicholas Ridley (1500-1555), all of whom were martyred for their reformed faith. From a later time, Charles Simeon (1759-1836) and John Stott (1921-2011) are extolled as exemplars of evangelical spirituality. Evangelical spirituality is predominantly a Word-centered spirituality where personal prayer, obedience to biblical teaching and evangelism are stressed, but there are other expressions of evangelicalism that are equally concerned with the social dimension of Christian faith.
For anglo-catholics, John Henry Newman (1801-1890), John Keble (1792-1866) and Edward Pusey (1800-1882), the founders of what is called ‘the ‘catholic revival’, are exemplars of anglo-catholic spirituality with its stress on the holiness of the priest, the centrality of the Eucharist and the apostolic continuity of the church. For later liberal catholics who wanted to be open to critical biblical scholarship and to see Anglicans involved in the pain and suffering of the world Bishop Charles Gore (1853-1932) and Archbishop William Temple (1881-1944) are models of this tradition of spirituality. Bridging these two catholic spiritualties is a catholic contemplative strand seen in the poet George Herbert (1593-1633), Evelyn Underhill (1875-1941), and today represented by Archbishop Rowan Williams (1950- ).
The charismatic Anglicans of the post 1970 period often see Michael Harper (1931- ) and Terry Fulham (1930-) as exemplars. In charismatic Anglican spirituality the stress is on the immediate awareness and empowering of the Holy Spirit. Charismatic spirituality has influenced Anglicans very widely by introducing new expressive music and a sense of joy in worship.
Finally, Richard Hooker (1554-1600), must be mentioned. He is widely taken to exemplify the spiritually of mainstream Anglicanism where the study of scripture so central to evangelical spirituality and the sacramental life of the church so central to catholic spirituality are brought together.
Faced with the reality of these four very different expressions of Anglican spirituality, each with variants within, pinpointing what is generic to Anglicanism is challenging. As a way forward I outline in what follows what I believe most Anglicans would recognise and accept as characteristic of Anglican spirituality. In taking this path I am implying that each position mentioned above takes us to the perimeter at different points yet there remains a large common centre where most Anglicans can be found.
Anglican spirituality embraces a wider vision of the church than the local congregation. Anglicans believe that while each parish is truly church it is only a local expression of the whole church. This larger vision of the church for Anglicans is first of all realised in the diocese and national church, and then most fully in the world-wide Anglican Communion without forgetting for a moment that the whole church, the church universal, is more than any one denomination. From this it follows that Anglican spirituality has a “high” view of the church.
This wider vision of the church is reflected in the Anglican view of ordained ministry. The bishop unites and oversees the parishes in his or her diocese yet each ordained minister is recognised in every Anglican diocese world wide although permission from the diocesan Bishop to officiate is always demanded for ministry outside of one’s parish. Anglicans thus also have a “high” view of ordination. Consequently almost universally Anglican spirituality values clerical ministry while at the same time emphasising the ministry of every believer.
Anglicans give equal place to Word and Sacraments. One should not eclipse the other. Anglican liturgies have not less than two Bible readings, often having three or four. Holy Communion is celebrated solemnly and reverently, usually each Sunday. Prayerfulness is encouraged both at a corporate and at an individual level. Because Anglicans greatly value set liturgies Anglican spirituality characteristically has a liturgical element.
Alongside the emphasis on corporate and personal devotion Anglicans believe that they are to be involved in the world with all its injustice, poverty and pain. Anglican spirituality shows itself in practical service for those in need and in social action.
In matters of doctrine Anglicans agree that Scripture is to be given first importance and authority. However, the contribution of both tradition and reason are acknowledged. Thus Anglicans believe that the meaning of scripture in new and different circumstances calls for prayer and careful and reasoned reflection in the light of “the tradition” – understood as what the best of theologians from the past and the creeds and 39 articles teach. From this mainstream view of the theological enterprise it follows that Anglican spirituality tends to be particularly appreciative of prayerful and thoughtful responses to difficult issues facing the church.
Alan Bartlett’s (A Passionate Balance, 2007) description of Anglican spirituality as ‘a passionate balance’ between extremes captures well the essence of Anglicanism. Anglican spirituality gives equal weight to both the corporate and individual aspects of the Christian life, to clerical and lay leadership, to Word and Sacrament, to scripture, tradition and reason and to worship in the Spirit in the church and Christ-like service in the world.
The Revd Dr Kevin Giles is a Melbourne Anglican theologian, author and pastor. He was in parish ministry for 40 years.
(The above is an edited version of the article Dr Giles submitted by invitation to the Zondervan Dictionary of Spirituality, recently published.)