Mere Anglicanism's goal of creating "educated, authentically discipled, and active Anglicans — both lay and clergy" must be considered a long term project. The prospect of a long term project such as this may not be the kind of thing that dissatisfied Episcopalians are likely to gravitate to, but this process, that of building a Biblically centered, authoritatively discipled base is absolutely essential if Anglicanism is to play any role in spreading the Good News of Christ crucified to an increasingly indifferent, if not hostile, world. Indeed, if Anglicanism proves incapable of this carrying out fundamental task, then it should be allowed to die.
The Mere Anglicanism Conference 2011 was held on January 20-22 at St. Phillips Church, Charleston, SC. This year's topic was "Biblical Anglicanism for a Global Future: Recovering the Power of the Word.”
A few reflections on the conference from my rough notes:
Thursday p.m. Dr. William Dickson presented: "Recovering the Power of the Word of God Written." Like many of the papers this year, this pewster had to ratchet up the little grey cells a notch to follow the speaker. I could not count how many times the word "perspicuity" came up, and I heard a few murmurs about the speaker being a few grade levels above some of the audience. Nonetheless, we were brought up to speed on William Whitaker's Disputations on Holy Scripture: Against the papists especially Bellarmine... (Google Books)and the question of scriptural clarity.
"Even if there were some obscurity in the words of scripture greater than in those of the fathers, it would not nevertheless be a just consequence, that the scriptures were so obscure that they should not be read by the people. This should rather rouse men to an attentive reading than deter them from reading altogether. Besides, the scriptures speak of necessary things no less plainly than any fathers, or even much more plainly, because the Holy Spirit excels in all powers of expression." William Whitaker, A Disputation on Holy Scripture Against the Papists, Especially Bellarmine and Stapleton, trans. and ed. William Fitzgerald (Cambridge: University Press, reprinted 1849), p. 390.I took away from this paper that "we are not to be masters of the text, the text will show us who is the master."
Friday and Saturday's Morning Prayer services gave us early birds a chance to hear two of Dr. James Nestingen's (Lutheran) wonderful sermons. It was good to hear the Word communicated clearly.
Friday morning we heard from Archbishop Mouneer Anis of the Diocese of Egypt whose subject was, "Recovering the Power of the Word for the Anglican Communion." He correctly identified the problems of Biblical illiteracy and that "for some the scriptures have become like a hermenuetical supermarket...pick what you like." There seems to be more emphasis on worship than on study of the scriptures. The structure of conferences such as Lambeth 2008 does not lead to any resolution of issues and we have lost any idea of what a concilliar meeting should be. His solutions include: 1. We need to repent. 2. Do what Anglicans did first. He mentioned that we need to trust Article VI,
"Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation. In the name of the Holy Scripture we do understand those canonical Books of the Old and New Testament, of whose authority was never any doubt in the Church."3. He also advised the training of lay Bible teachers, 4. establishing sound schools of theology, and 5. developing a concilliatory structure.
That sounds like Mere Anglicanism to me.
Later in the morning, Dr. Gillis Harp presented "Recovering the Power of the Word in Anglican History." I thought this talk was one of the more useful ones to the pewperson. He took us from Tyndale, through Cranmer, Hugh Latimer, Charles Simeon, and a couple more who I missed in my notes. The take home message was about the importance of effective preaching and how there must time spent in preparation, there has to be a connection to Christ crucified (Simeon), and there needs to be a renewal of Anglican preaching. Perhaps by studying the history of great preaching, we can reclaim some of its power today.
At noon Dr. John Senyonyi read a paper by Dr. Stephan Noll on "Recovering the Power of the Word Philosophically: From the Truth to the Whole Truth," but the take home line was from Dr. Senyoni describing "the Word as God's love letter to me." Like a love letter, you are drawn to pore over it time and time again.
Dr. Ashley Null's paper on "Recent Findings on Cranmer Research" was interesting and Dr. Null's enthusiasm for the subject kept me from sinking into my usual postprandial fog.
Friday p.m. we celebrated Holy Communion at the Cathedral Church of St. Luke and St. Paul, where they appear to have fixed the heating system (as compared to my last visit), and Bishop Lawrence preached the sermon. We enjoyed his Gospel centered approach, and the music of the Cathedral choir as they sang "Oh Thou the Central Orb," but I noted that the lay readers needed some amplification as the readings while familiar, were so quietly read (sorry Ann) that I was left thinking that this was not a good example of communicating the Word clearly.
After escorting Bishop Michael Nazir Ali through the Charleston streets to the reception in honor of Bishop Allison, we skipped the banquet and went in search of a hot chocholate before calling it a day.
Saturday a.m.'s speakers included Dr. Charles Raven whose subject "Gospel or not Gospel? Recovering the Power of the Word of Truth" should be translated into "The theology of Rowan Williams compared to that of Cranmer." To sum up, hermeneutical pessimism compensated by eccleisiastical optimism compared to hermeneutical optimism compensated by eccleisiatical pessimism. You get one guess as to which is R.W.
Finally, Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali spoke on "Recovering the Power of the Word for Anglican Polity." He discussed how new knowledge and revelation are reconciled. He noted the clarity, sufficiency, and supremacy of scripture. He reminded us that engagement cannot obscure or negate the Gospel. Engagement does not equal capitulation. In engagement we should be able to recognize the Gospel in others (yes, if the other has a false gospel, there can be no engagement, only evangelism of the true Gospel. - my words).
Bishop Nazir Ali also pointed out the lack of decision making, the lack of discipline, and the fact that the concilliar process is avoided in Anglicanism to its demise.
This year, I was most deeply affected by the homiletics and "mere" Morning Prayer (Rite I). Talk about "recovering the power of the Word!"
As I whispered to Dean McKeachie, "This is my yearly vaccination."
I would like to thank the Diocese of SC for hosting this event, and Bishop Lawrence for his gracious presence.
This year, Upper SC was represented by a grand total of three persons. I hope that more will make the trip next time and that maybe Bishop Waldo will give it a taste. I'll be happy to escort him through the Charleston night if he feels lost.
Sitting, chatting, praying, and worshipping with those on the frontlines such a Bishops Anis, Lawrence, and Nazir Ali is a humbling experience for a lowly pewster. Their openness to me, a stranger, was greatly appreciated.
And thanks Fitz for autographing your latest book. I am working on it, I promise.
Anytime one gets to spend a few days in Charleston is a delight, but to get to spend time with the Lord and such a wonderful, friendly group of people made the trip special.
All in all, Mere Anglicanism 2011 might have been a little too cerebral for many pewsitters, but there were pearls to be found in these presentations. Gillis Harp's in particular was helpful to me. The presentations should be available as a CD set for $65 payable to:
Mere Anglicanism CDs
126 Coming St.
Charleston, SC 29403
Oh yeah, don't forget the Central Orb.