In my last post, “A Proposed Resolution for General Convention 2012,” I suggested, among other things, that The Episcopal Church declare that “membership in the Anglican Communion is not essential to [The Episcopal Church’s] existence, its Anglicanism, or its Gospel mission in the world.”
Alan Perry, in a comment, suggested that it was a stretch to suggest that a church could withdraw from the Anglican Communion and remain “Anglican.” He suggested that my attitude was uncomfortably close to that of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), which claims to be “Anglican” but only aspires to join the Anglican Communion.
I wrote a brief comment to Alan, which I will expand a bit here.
“Anglican,” I suggest, is commonly used in at least three ways. (A fourth, less common usage is “Anglican Church” as a synonym for “Church of England.”) “Anglican,” referring to a church, can mean, as Alan suggests, being in the Anglican Communion. The word can also refer to a church that is descended historically from an autonomous Church of England. ACNA certainly qualifies as Anglican by this definition, as does the United Methodist Church in the U.S., though hardly anyone would apply the word to Methodists. Finally, there is the way I usually use the term, which I consider to be the most important, if not the most common. “Anglican” in this sense, refers to an approach to theology, ecclesiology, and possibly (though less importantly) polity (i.e., having bishops in apostolic succession). It refers to the Via Media idea of a church that is neither Roman Catholic nor Protestant, a church where a certain uniformity of worship is more important than uniformity of belief. (See my paper, “Saving Anglicanism,” which is decidedly not about preserving the Anglican Communion.) Anglicanism’s most important theologian is, of course, Richard Hooker.
One can characterize churches in terms of how well they can be described by the three kinds of Anglicanism. To do so, I offer the diagram below. (Click on graphic for a larger view.)
The Episcopal Church, and many other churches of the Anglican Communion, sit at the intersection of the three classes of “Anglicanism.” ACNA, on the other hand,is not in the Communion, and, I would argue, not philosophically Anglican. From all I can tell, the Church of Nigeria (Anglican) is not philosophically Anglican at all, though it is in the Anglican Communion. I know of no philosophically Anglican churches not derived from the Church of England. Correct me if I am wrong. Moreover, I think all churches in the Communion are derived from the Church of England, which explains the two “NULL” labels in my diagram.