G.K.Chesterton once contributed to a correspondence in The Times on what is wrong with the world by writing, “What is the wrong with the world? I am. Yours sincerely, G.K.Chesterton.” By analogy, when I am asked, what is an Anglican Evangelical? I am tempted to reply, Well, I am.
So, at the risk of seeming self-indulgent, let me tell you what this means to me. It means that I consider myself a Christian first of all, an evangelical Christian second, and an Anglican evangelical Christian third. They are like three concentric circles, Christian being the biggest, and Anglican evangelical the smallest.
To begin with the first, when I say I am a Christian, I mean that I believe that Jesus Christ is Lord of the Universe, Saviour of the world, and Head of the church, and that I have given my life, heart and soul and mind and strength to him. My heart’s desire is to see him more clearly, love him more dearly and follow him more nearly, day by day. (I think this is what you call “wearing your heart on your sleeve,” something Anglicans don’t do a whole lot. So be it. I have probably been reading Augustine’s Confessions too much recently.)
Being first and foremost a Christian also means that I feel solidarity with a Pentecostal in Argentina, a Quaker in Kenya, a member of the Brethren in Spain, a Catholic from India, and a member of an underground house church in China. Other differences, national as well as denominational, pale into insignificance in the light of our common allegiance to Jesus Christ. If I were primarily an Anglican, such fellowship would be much harder to come by.
When I say, secondly, that I am an evangelical, I mean that I belong to that part of the Christian community which emphasizes the importance of the Bible as the primary source of the church’s authority, and the Gospel as the source of the church’s vitality. There are other hallmarks of evangelicalism, but I would argue that all others are secondary to these. As John Stott (that uncrowned Pope of Anglican evangelicalism) says, “Evangelicals are Bible people, and they are Gospel people.” To me these two convictions are as central to authentic Christianity as the Trinity and the mandate to love my neighbour.
I suppose, if the whole church decided tomorrow that the Bible and the Gospel were as important as evangelicals believe, then the term evangelical wouldn’t be needed any more, and I for one would not miss it. Until then, I am content to be called an evangelical, not as a “member” of a “party” (heaven forbid) but because of those convictions about Bible and Gospel.
And, thirdly, when I say I am an Anglican, well, I guess I don’t need to explain what an Anglican is. As for why I am an Anglican, I would say I appreciate a number of things. A tradition which has a strong sense of history (for many other evangelicals, not much happened between the end of Acts and Luther nailing his 95 theses to the Wittenberg church door in 1517). A sense of intellectual and spiritual freedom within broad Christian boundaries (I think of one friend who has not been allowed to join the evangelical church she has attended and served for 20 years because she will not endorse their view of eschatology). The liturgy, which links me with other churches around the world and through the centuries (and is not dependent on an individual minister’s whim, mood, vocabulary, or spirituality). And the episcopate, at least when bishops lead and teach us in godly ways.
This is not to say I have always been Anglican. Certainly I was raised Anglican (in the Church in Wales, not to be confused with the Church of England—ask Rowan Williams). But I have also been an attender/adherent/member of a Baptist Church, a Plymouth Brethren assembly, a charismatic Anglican church (which was not always recognizable as Anglican), a Presbyterian Church (Knox on Spadina in Toronto), and (presently) a church one long-term members described to me as “Anglo-catholic in process of evangelicalization”). And I have attended churches of many more traditions, from Vineyard to Alliance to Roman Catholic.
So for me, returning to the Anglican Church twenty years ago had a sense about it of coming home, having tried other options and found them, for various reasons, lacking. And on the days when I wonder why I stay (and there have been a few of those recently), part of my answer is, “To whom shall we go?” Not that the Anglican Church has “the words of life” but there are other things I appreciate, and, when combined with the words of life, to me it’s irresistible.
The Morning Star, Wycliffe College, November 2003