I interviewed for a position at the American Anglican Council in 2007. When I saw the job posting I immediately Googled “Anglican.” Images of old cathedrals, coats of arms and British royalty were among the top hits. When I came to the AAC’s page I read their statement of faith. It was lengthy and a bit arcane to me at the time but I didn’t have any major problems with it. Everything I read seemed consistent with what I believed. Sure there was lots of flowery language and some old-school churchy words but I essentially didn’t have any problems. So when I actually got the job I didn’t think there would be a conflict between my convictions as a life-long Southern Baptist and the Anglican Communion’s teaching.
As I continued working, I encountered some things that gave me pause. Number one, this Southern Baptist was a little wary when the Anglicans drank alcohol. Not as upsetting but equally foreign to me were the positions of priest, bishop and archbishop. In the Baptist church the leader is the pastor and the deacons (and the choir sometimes but that’s an unofficial leadership role). When you add in the clothes they wear; collars, cassocks, cinctures, stoles, surplices, mitres (oh, the mitres!), albs all the way to the occasional zucchetto, I wasn’t in Kansas anymore.
I remember one time we were reciting the Apostles Creed at morning prayers. This was right after I was hired, I left out that part in the creed about the “the holy catholic church.” At the time I thought the Anglicans were somehow pledging allegiance to the Pope or something. Looking back now, I should have asked instead of just keeping quiet. One of the priests who worked with me eventually pulled me aside and asked why I didn’t say it. When I told him why he smiled and told me how they were talking about the unity of the church in Christ and that it was small “c” catholic.
Since those early days I’ve come to appreciate many things about Anglicans. The way they worship on Sundays and in the daily office has a built-in mechanism that guarantees the worshiper will hear the gospel and have an appropriate description of God before them in the Eucharist as well as the words of the liturgy. I appreciate the God-ordained advantages of being under authority. Provided the bishop and priest are acting in step with a true Christian walk, there is a lot to be said for being under authority and having leaders who are themselves under authority.
Now I still don’t agree with every aspect of Anglicanism but those areas where I am in disagreement are secondary and not ones of primary or communion-breaking importance. Don’t get me wrong, there are some Anglican leaders that espouse a false doctrine. That’s a big reason the AAC exists – to renew orthodox Anglicanism in the face of false teaching. But those false teachers in no way speak for the majority of Anglicans and in no way reflect the roots of Anglicanism.
Early this week I was in Washington D.C. for a meeting of the Common Ground Christian Network (pictured above). The network was established by the AAC and other groups like the Presbyterian Lay Committee to foster cooperation among Bible-believing denominations. Our meeting this week was on the subject of religious liberty. We heard truly gut-wrenching accounts of Christian men, women and children being slaughtered in the Middle East as they refused to renounce the name of Christ. I was convicted about my public and prayer silence regarding the hell on earth our brothers and sisters in Iraq, Iran, China, Nigeria and elsewhere are experiencing. I was also concerned to hear about what seems to be a concerted effort to curb religious liberties here in the U.S. We’ve been seeing for some time the conflict between religious liberties and the progressive agenda (the Hobby Lobby case, for example). However, when we were briefed on the scope of these conflicts and their legal outcomes around the U.S., it appears like there’s a lot more going on than just naturally occurring conflict.
One of our reasons for working with this cross-denominational gathering is the knowledge that our churches are facing common threats. Threats from within such as un-biblical teaching in churches and seminaries, congregations that are dwindling and depleted resources are common to our denominations. So, too, are external threats like government suppression of public religious expression (i.e. living your faith not just at church/home but at work and elsewhere) and the challenges of a culture increasingly hostile to biblical values and teaching. The mainline denominations (Presbyterian, Anglican, Methodist, Lutheran and others) have especially suffered from these threats and make up the bulk of the Common Ground Christian Network. However, for the first time, and I hope not the last, we had a few Southern Baptists sitting in on our meeting. It did my heart good to think of the possibilities when I imagined Southern Baptist, Methodist, Anglican and other churches working to some degree in concert. I don’t think this will happen very soon – but who knows. I remember one time I was with an Anglican bishop who grew up in Pakistan and was chased out of country because of his ministry. I was driving him to Hartsfield airport in Atlanta and he remarked about the number of churches we were passing. I said, “I know, bishop, there is a church on almost every corner down here. I wish they would work closer together.” Without pause the bishop said, “a little persecution will cure that.”
It may not be too long before we find out if the bishop was right. If the current stresses on religious liberty in America morph into something more sinister and overt, how important and beneficial would it be for Bible believing denominations to have already begun working together? What would it mean for Christians in the Middle East and elsewhere if the Church in North America prayed and spoke in unison on their behalf? The benefits of cross-denominational cooperation are numerous. Maybe it’s time we stood together on the common ground we all share.
Robert Lundy is Communications Director of the American Anglican Council.