Skip to content

Top 10 Reasons I’m Not Anglo-Catholic

by Carson T. Clark on September 22, 2012

Preface.1

I’m an Anglican Christian, but am not Anglo-Catholic. After a number of recent inquires I wanted to offer a synopsis of my perspective. So as to avoid harmful miscommunication, however, I want to first make some things explicitly clear. I not only consider Anglo-Catholics to be brothers and sisters in Christ, but I embrace them fully as representing a genuine expression of the larger tradition. 1.Though others may read it, this post is written primarily to an in-house, Anglican audience. I’m giving fair warning that a lot of the terms and issues may be utterly foreign to those outside of this sphere. One of the things I value most about orthodox Anglicanism is its internal elasticity on adiaphora. It uniquely upholds what is to my eyes an obvious New Testament tension between doctrinal “purity”–for lack of a better word–and ecclesiastical unity. Therefore, amidst our disagreements I strive to be accurate yet concise, critical yet charitable, forthright yet respectful. You’ll find no strawman arguments, ad hominem attacks, false dichotomies, or the various other logical fallacies that tend to crop up in these sorts of blog posts. That being said, here are the Top 10 Reasons I’m not Anglo-Catholic:

10. Evangelical. Evangelicalism is an undeniable part of my spiritual DNA. I see myself as being within the lineage of such deceased figures as Whitefield, Wesley, Newton, Wilberforce, Webber, and Stott as well as such contemporary figures as Packer, McGrath, and Wright.22.The tangible connection with the ancient, undivided Church’s history and tradition was perhaps the #1 draw to Anglicanism, but I’m much more ancient-future than ancient alone. I’m much more Trinity (or Gordon-Conwell) than Nashotah, if you will.

9. Ideology. In my experience, the vast majority of Anglo-Catholics find a significant part of their identity in being uniformly conservative–theologically, politically, socially, etc. As the title of this blog makes clear, that ain’t me. I’m a hardlining moderate through and through.33.They’re unquestionably in the minority, but there are more than a handful of evangelical Anglicans who are moderate.

8. Epistemology. I stand with persons like N.T. Wright in holding to postfoundationalism. While this isn’t necessarily mutually exclusive of Anglo-Catholicism,44.One of my mentors and former professors, Fr. Michael Pahls, is welcome, living proof of this. my experience tells me such a position puts one at odds with the vast majority of its adherents.

7. Sacraments. I believe there are only two Sacraments that were explicitly inaugurated by Christ–baptism and communion.55.That is, I affirm the Thirty-Nine Articles’ statement that “[t]hose five commonly called Sacraments, that is to say, Confirmation, Penance, Orders, Matrimony, and Extreme Unction, are not to be counted for Sacraments of the Gospel, being such as have grown partly of the corrupt following of the Apostles, partly are states of life allowed in the Scriptures, but yet have not like nature of Sacraments with Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper, for that they have not any visible sign or ceremony ordained of God.” I count the additional five as sacramental, or even sacraments, but not Sacraments. Moreover, I disagree with the Anglo-Catholic view(s) of the nature and efficacy of sacramental theology. We’re just not on the same page here.

6. Western. I don’t see the Anglican tradition as being exclusively Western. I realize this puts me somewhat at odds with more than just Anglo-Catholics, but I see Anglicanism as at least containing a patristic tradition of English Christianity that preceded Roman usurpation.

5. Egalitarian. I believe in full gender equality. While I want to be careful not to reinforce the unfortunate caricature that all complementarians are misogynists–they’re not–the fact remains that I’m at odds with their “distinct but equal” philosophy.66.In my experience, in practice it too often it resembles the supposed equality of the “separate but equal” Jim Crowe South.

4. Polity. Anglo-Catholics are a decidedly hierarchical expression of the Anglican tradition. That makes me most uncomfortable. While I enthusiastically embrace episcopal oversight, I have strong reservations about strong top-down governance in any organization.77.It’s not from Scripture or anything, but I agree with the principle that power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

3. Churchmanship. Except for on special occasions like Christmas and Easter, I’m not a bells and smells sorta dude. I tend to be pretty darn high church-inclined as far as evangelical Anglicans go, but too much of that stuff just feels like we’re dressing up for Halloween.

2. Milieu. By its nature Anglo-Catholicism is captive to antiquated cultural norms. Anglicans on the whole have a lot to learn, but that expression seems particularly out of touch. They’re usually tone deaf to the socio-religious, intellectual, racial and other notes of our day.88.I say this with confidence only because Anglo-Catholics themselves and evangelical priests I know within Anglo-Catholic dioceses have consistently reported this to me. Two examples, both of which are very important to me. First, they tell me that the Anglo-Catholic culture on the whole doesn’t know what to do with our emerging postchristian and postmodern society. Consequently, they’re digging in their heals and defensively reinforcing old ways of seeing and doing things. Second, I hear that Anglo-Catholics haven’t the foggiest clue about planting churches among anyone but middle- and upper-class WASP Christians. I’ve only ever seen a handful of non-white people at Anglo-Catholic parishes, which seem to be the exception proving the rule.

1. Catholic. I definitively see myself as catholic but don’t consider myself Catholic. From the Marian dogmas to Tomistic theology with numerous other beliefs and practices in between, I’m at odds with it. And, honestly, if I were to be Catholic I’d probably just be Roman Catholic.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/B-Todd-Granger/100002575864985 B Todd Granger

    Carson, there is a distinct strain of Anglo-Catholicism that is perhaps better described as Anglo-Orthodox. It is simply not that case that all Anglo-Catholics are exclusively Latin Church in their theology and culture.

    And I’m afraid by your marginal note under “Egalitarian” you took away with the left hand what you think you gave with the right. Perhaps it’s merely infelicitous wording, but even your choice of the phrase “distinct but equal”, with all that conjures in the American consciousness, rather than a word used by complementarians ourselves, like “complementary” (which implies equality), suggests (perhaps erroneously) that you harbor a niggling suspicion that we really are misogynists.

    • Peter K

      Hey Carson, as one dragged kicking and screaming to a Complementarian view by an honest assessment of scripture as seen in its social-historical context, I highly object to the implicit accusation to those of my thought process and honest weighing of different views that we are sexist.

    • http://twitter.com/carsontclark Carson T. Clark

      “While I want to be careful not to reinforce the unfortunate caricature that all complementarians are misogynists–they’re not–the fact remains that I’m at odds with their ‘distinct but equal’ philosophy.”

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/B-Todd-Granger/100002575864985 B Todd Granger

      Carson, if I may push back here, it’s true that you have the out of this statement, and as a complementarian I appreciate that you’ve not tarred all of us with the brush of misogynism, but the mere fact that you decide to add such a codicil, rather than being content simply to disagree with the philosophy qua philosophy, still suggests to me that you harbor the notion that deep down, this really is an essentially misogynistic position.

      Are there misogynistic complementarians? Yes – I’ve encountered some of them. But on close questioning they weren’ really very complementarian (which by necessity demands equality) in their views, but used that as a convenient philosophical cover for their sexism. Would I be out of line to note that I’ve discovered not a few functional sexists among the equalitarians? Human sinfulness being what it is, any theological position will attract the sinful, the hypocritical, and the downright nutty, particularly when that position is viewed (often erroneously) as being congenial to the person’s sinful (or bizarre) opinions.

      I’m very happy to be told that I’m deeply mistaken here, but the defense that you’re not saying that “all complementarians are misogynists” has a “some of my best friends are…” ring to it.

    • http://twitter.com/carsontclark Carson T. Clark

      While I understand why you think you’re perceiving what you are, your perception is false. I’m a hardlining moderate. Among other things that means I’m an equal-opportunity commender and criticizer. My intention is simply to accurately represent the tension(s) I see in the world around me. In this blog post I simultaneously shot down egalitarians who presume all complementarians are misogynists and complementarians who fail to see the rampant sexism in conservative American culture. Interestingly, both sides have objected to this particular point and sidenote. I take that to mean my general outlook has merit.

    • http://twitter.com/carsontclark Carson T. Clark

      “there is a distinct strain of Anglo-Catholicism that is perhaps better described as Anglo-Orthodox. It is simply not that case that all Anglo-Catholics are exclusively Latin Church in their theology and culture.”

      Fair enough. I must say, however, that as someone who often describes himself as Eastern Anglican I don’t understand why such persons would self-identify as Anglo-Catholics if they’re not Latin in their orientation. The plain historical-linguistic reality is that for about a thousand years West = Latin = Catholic (capital C) and East = Greek = Orthodox (capital O).

      “And I’m afraid by your marginal note under ‘Egalitarian’ you took away with the left hand what you think you gave with the right. Perhaps it’s merely infelicitous wording, but even your choice of the phrase ‘distinct but equal’, with all that conjures in the American consciousness, rather than a word used by complementarians ourselves, like ‘complementary’ (which implies equality), suggests (perhaps erroneously) that you harbor a niggling suspicion that we really are misogynists.”

      Distinct but equal is a phrase I first learned and heard repeatedly from complementarian professors at two conservative Bible colleges.

    • http://twitter.com/carsontclark Carson T. Clark

      And, yes, I do think many but certainly not all complementarians treat women as inferiors.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/B-Todd-Granger/100002575864985 B Todd Granger

      I won’t dispute the fact that most Anglo-Catholics are Latin in their soteriology and ecclesiology, but regarding historic-linguistic reality, the Orthodox Churches still use the title (not just the adjective) “Catholic” in naming themselves in their official documents. True, colloquially and in ecumenical documents they are referred to as “Orthodox” Churches, but that is mostly to distinguish them from the (Roman) Catholic Church, and not necessarily how they would prefer to describe or to name themselves. The minority “Anglo-Orthodox” amongst Anglo-Catholics can still accept the latter designation for themselves on that basis, and on the basis that for the first millenium the entire Church was rightly called the “Holy Orthodox Catholic and Apostolic Church”.

  • Gill

    Hi Carson, thought-provoking as usual! I’m not able to make some of the generalisations you do, but that may reflect the fact that we’re on different sides of the water and the church emerges differently. I come from a line of Catholic Anglican priests – father, grandfather, and numerous relatives – and they are and were consistently passionate about the truth of Scripture as well as the central importance of the Sacraments, especially Holy Communion, and steeped in the Church Fathers too. Also, there’s a long and honourable history of Catholic Anglican priests working in the inner city, on god-forsaken estates, and in very needy areas of the world – a long time before current evangelicals caught up with the need to live the Gospel within our society, rather than apart from it. Like you, I’m dyed-in-the-wool evangelical but there are Catholic Anglican churches which feed my spirit better than some evangelical ones do.

    Not sure whether this gets us anywhere, but thought it would be useful to share an alternative experience!

    • http://twitter.com/carsontclark Carson T. Clark

      “Hi Carson, thought-provoking as usual! I’m not able to make some of the generalisations you do, but that may reflect the fact that we’re on different sides of the water and the church emerges differently.”

      As evidenced by your misspelling of generalizations ;)

      At one point I had actually included “(American)” before Anglo-Catholic repeated throughout the post. But as I tried hard to make each point no more and no less than 3 lines I had to remove ‘em.

      “I come from a line of Catholic Anglican priests – father, grandfather, and numerous relatives – and they are and were consistently passionate about the truth of Scripture as well as the central importance of the Sacraments, especially Holy Communion, and steeped in the Church Fathers too.”

      I don’t want to read in things that aren’t there, so let me ask a question. Are you suggesting that I suggested that Anglo-Catholics don’t have a passion for the truth of Scripture, etc.?

      “Also, there’s a long and honourable history of Catholic Anglican priests working in the inner city, on god-forsaken estates, and in very needy areas of the world – a long time before current evangelicals caught up with the need to live the Gospel within our society, rather than apart from it.”

      I’d like to know more, but I have no question about the legitimacy of what you’re saying.

      “Like you, I’m dyed-in-the-wool evangelical but there are Catholic Anglican churches which feed my spirit better than some evangelical ones do.”

      Yeah, a great many evangelical Anglicans drive me nuts. As I said, I tend to be pretty high church as far as evangelical Anglicans go :)

      “Not sure whether this gets us anywhere, but thought it would be useful to share an alternative experience!”

      Thanks.

  • http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Anti-Catholic Wesley Mcgranor

    I think that secularization is an assault to Protestantism. Tempting and deceiving many into the traps of Catholicism–as a more viable alternative. The argument over catholicity; is one better lost, by those not wanting to pretend, that ‘catholicity’ is valid.

%d bloggers like this: