Saturday, October 12, 2013

The Evangelical Church in North America

The Anglican Church in North America has always been an interesting compromise. Today at the diocesan convention of the Western Anglicans, keynote speaker (and ACNA primate) Robert Duncan described ACNA as “three streams, two integrities and one church.”

During his subsequent answers to written questions, Bp. Duncan described the two integrities (two views on women’s ordination) and the three streams
  • “First of all, evangelical. We hold ourselves accountable to the word of God.”
  • “The second stream, the Catholic stream, holds itself accountable to tradition.”
  • The third stream was once called the “liberal” (sometimes now Charismatic). It was defined by a willingness to be free within the power of the Holy Spirit — but more recently has meant free to do anything.
Since the founding of the Church of England in the Tudor era, the tension of the Anglican Church has been most visibly between the evangelical and Anglo-Catholic wings of the church. The Oxford movement of the early 19th century was the most successful effort of the past half-millenium to restore the influence of Anglo-Catholics within the CoE. The two sides share power in the CoE, although the Evangelicals appear to be dominant (while many of the liberals left the CoE to become Methodists).

Abp. Duncan’s address — and the worship of the entire diocesan convention — make it clear that the ACNA is an Evangelical church with little room for Anglo-Catholics. In theology, ACNA may position itself in the historic (Reformed) Christian tradition, but in terms of worship style it’s distinctly modern.

At all four services, the 7-piece praise band (with drummer) performed a series of 21st century CCM tunes. A few were familiar to the congregation members, and many (although not all) appear to be worshipping to praise music at their home parishes. Two of the services had one token hymn each.
Rehearsal by Diocese of Western Anglicans praise band, October 12
I’ve been in all three California dioceses — San Joaquin, Western Anglicans and the proto-diocese of San Francisco Bay. The first two are conservative theologically (at least on WO), but it’s clear liturgically that both (like the Bay Area) are largely following the contemporary worship fad, marginalizing worship (and music) that would have been the only worship style one would have seen in an ECUSA church 30 years ago. Our form of worship may be (Rite II) liturgical, but in terms of music we in ACNA are all Pentecostals.

The archbishop commands us to be “in the world but not of the world.” But conforming our worship style to contemporary culture — Pop Goes Religion as Terry Mattingly put it — seems to imply that we must join the culture to reach it.

Yes, every generation adds its music to the canon. But throwing away centuries of tradition — all of the prior canon — in favor of the past five years is a hubris only a Baby Boomer could attempt (even if the nominal reason is appealing to millennials).

In the meantime, we Anglo-Catholics will go gray and die while waiting for another Oxford-style revival (much as the Baroque revival in the 1960s and 1970s brought back Bach and other music that had been largely forgotten in this century). Or we can join and support the Schism I churches, which — despite their many faults — are the one Anglican institution in this country that will pass along our historic liturgy in the state that they received it.

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