“I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions just as I handed them on to you”. (1 Cor 11:2)
Discovering our identity by examining our past and exploring our present traditions can be difficult for Anglicans. Of all the denominations we are perhaps the most diverse. Our Church contains Christians more radical than many protestant denominations, and others more Catholic than most Roman Catholics. Some say that this is our special gift to the worldwide church, to hold together all the different ways of worshipping God in one body of Christians. Its origins lay deep in our history. During the Reformation in England, our ancestors in the faith made a conscious decision not to wipe away the good things of the past, nor to ignore the good things of the Reformation. So we find ourselves today a church both Catholic and Reformed.
On the one hand we are a church possessing the Catholic tradition and continuity from the ancient church, and our Catholic tradition and continuity includes the belief in the real presence of Christ in the blessed sacrament; the order of the episcopacy, the apostolic succession, and the priesthood, including the power of priestly absolution. We possess various institutions belonging to Catholic Christendom like monastic orders for men and women.
But our Anglican tradition has another aspect as well. We are a church which has been through the Reformation, and values many experiences derived from the Reformation, for instance the open bible: great importance is attached to the authority of the holy Scriptures, and to personal conviction and conversion through the work of the Holy Spirit.
As if this were not enough diversity, Anglicans have also always placed a high value on scholarship and learning. We have been eager to explore the new insights which an intelligent reflection on Scripture and history can offer. This desire to think is sometimes called ‘liberalism’.
It is the glory of the Anglican church that at the Reformation she repudiated neither the ancient structure of Catholicism, nor the new and freer movement. Upon the ancient structure – the creeds, the canon, the hierarchy, the sacraments – she retained her hold while she opened her arms to the new learning, the new appeal to Scripture, the freedom of historical criticism and the duty of private judgment.
So we are a Church full of ‘living stones’-rock solid in traditions, but open to new developments. We are a Church, which perhaps more than any other, lives in the creative tensions between Catholicism and Protestantism, tradition and innovation. Spend some time thinking about your parish, either alone or with some friends. Try to identify where is it placed in these tensions; what is Catholic, what protestant; what traditions do you retain, where have you ‘opened your arms to the new learning’?