The ‘Broad Church’ of Anglicanism

Here is a good commentary from the TimesOnline (Longdon Times, that is) by Dr Geoffrey Rowell, the Bishop of Gibraltar in Europe. (I found this on Kendall Harmons’ titusonenine, thanks!)
The dangers of unbalancing the ‘broad church’ of Anglicanism Credo
by Geoffrey Rowell
The Times January 28, 2006
A FEW weeks ago a European diplomat asked me to explain what was meant by saying that the Church of England was “a broad church”. As Anglican travellers know all too well, it is quite difficult to explain the identity of Anglicanism to many Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant Christians with no experience of the Church of England. It is, we say, both Catholic and reformed, a Church that experienced the Reformation of the 16th century, yet was careful to maintain the historic threefold apostolic ministry of bishop, priest and deacon; a Church that in its orders of morning and evening prayer (matins and evensong) creatively continued the pattern of the old monastic daily offices, but adapted for congregations; and which retained not only the sacraments, but sacramental signs like the ring in marriage and the sign of the cross in baptism.
If there was concern for reformation, there was also concern for continuity, and it was the faith and order of the early centuries of the Church that were looked to as the benchmark of the English Reformation. Later medieval patterns of worship and practice were tested against the practice of the undivided church of east and west and early apologists for the Church of England emphasised that the English Reformation was a reformation by tradition.
As the genius of the Church of England grew and developed within the broad structure of its “reformed Catholicism” there was room for those with different theological emphases. So the Church of England accommodated groups with differing expressions of worship and different theologies, often co-existing happily, sometimes fighting battles to push at the boundaries.

There were those, like the great 19th-century theologian, F. D. Maurice, who were critical of belonging to a party in the Church because parties were partial and ended by being sectarian. Maurice saw the Church of England as needing the missionary zeal of the evangelical, the sacramental worship and sense of order of the Catholic, and the liberal concern for critical dialogue with contemporary culture. But all were held within the structure of the reformed catholicism of the Church of England, in a balance that has been the genius of Anglicanism.
At the present time there is a danger of unbalancing the Church of England, because of debates that touch profoundly the over-arching structure of the Church. A synod that still bears too many of the marks of a parliamentary system, and which is inclined to believe that the church is a democracy, is vulnerable to ecclesiastical party pressures and lobbying.
There is a need for the kind of consensus decision-making that is characteristic of both Jesuits and Quakers, and which has recently been adopted by the World Council of Churches in order to ensure that the voice of the Orthodox Churches is not swamped by larger majorities from the Protestant world. The ascendancy of evangelicalism, with its personal piety and subjective spirituality (of which contemporary concerns for “authenticity” are a secular mirror image) can lead to a very different understanding of the Church than that of classical Anglicanism. Order and ministry can seem to be convenient arrangements rather than something which is part of that which is given and handed on, and is an integral part of the claim of the church to teach and embody a faith not grounded in human invention but rooted in God’s self revelation in Jesus Christ, who is the founder and lord of the Church.
In the debates about women bishops in the Church of England much will doubtless be heard about inclusivity, but inclusivity is not, however, identical with the claim of the Church to be catholic. In this debate there are underlying questions about the symbolic significance of male and female as both made in the image of God, and yet created in a sexually differentiated pattern. There are further questions about the nature of the Church, the processes of decision-making, the role of the bishop as a focus of unity and the need for working at the difficult issues with those historic Churches with which the Church of England claims to share the apostolic order of the threefold ministry.
The Church of England may be, as I tried to explain to the ambassador, a “broad church”, but it is, and always has been, a broad church within a given structure of order and ministry. Its unbalancing by the marginalising of those within it with the deepest concern for catholic order and sacramental ministry would severely damage its identity and its witness. The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity ended last week. We need to pray for that unity with deep longing — and act accordingly.
The Right Rev Dr Geoffrey Rowell is Bishop of Gibraltar in Europe