Why I Hang Out with Anglicans
Over the last few years, I have had the opportunity to spend time with new friends who are a part of the Anglican Church in North America. It is now a denomination of 100,000 members in over 1,000 churches across my country. It is an emerging Province in the global Anglican Communion. The Most Rev. Robert Duncan is the Archbishop of the Church and Bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh. Though I am not an Anglican and not planning on becoming one at any time in the future, I love the spirit of their leaders and the loving impulse of their congregations.
In their own words and borrowing a phrase from C.S. Lewis, the ACNA says:
To be an Anglican, then, is not to embrace a distinct version of Christianity, but a distinct way of being a “Mere Christian,” at the same time evangelical, apostolic, catholic, reformed, and Spirit-filled.
I like the spirit of that brief description.
Recently, I spent the better part of a Saturday with the leadership of Church of the Redeemer in Nashville. Thomas McKenzie, the pastor of these wonderful people, has become a friend. (I highly recommend you check out his blog, especially for his movie reviews.) The time together was spent discussing the present state of their church family, ministries, and what the future will look like as the congregation grows through discipleship and church planting.
But the issue may still remain for some of my friends: Why does a Southern Baptist boy from Alabama who works for our denomination’s publishing agency spend time helping an Anglican church think about their future? The answer lies in three phrases I heard over and over again in our conversations on that Saturday morning.
Church family: I realize that this is a common phrase among many churches but it had a beautiful connotation with Church of the Redeemer. First, they speak about it in a pointedly local fashion. The church sees its work as one of parish. The community in which they work is one that they want to know and be known by. For them, family is not an optional idea and they are working diligently to understand how to grow but not lose the sense of it. Secondly, they enjoy being a part of a global church family. The ACNA was birthed from a request of the Global Anglican Future Conference in June 2008. During the genesis of their ecclesial structure, they were once under the leadership of the archbishop in Rwanda. By virtue of their history, as short as it is for the ACNA, they are standing on centuries of history and family that embodies a sense of a global family… and mission.
Kingdom citizen: On several occasions, the emphasis of ministry was placed on the idea of welcoming people into the kingdom of God. As they discussed discipleship, it was nearly always couched in the context of learning what it means to be a citizen of God’s kingdom. It is a beautiful picture of our lives. We live in the dust of Earth but as members of the kingdom of Heaven. Discipleship is too often poorly defined as behavior modification and mastering biblical trivia. For these Anglican friends, it is guiding people to live with an eternal vision while in the everyday responsibilities of this life.
New Creation: Perhaps, the idea of the new creation was my favorite of the day. Located just south of downtown Nashville, they have a community that includes suburbanites that have plenty, artists that don’t know what they have, young adults discovering their path in life, and the poor who are sure they have nothing. But whether ministering to a widow or an addict or a healthy family, they want to help people embrace the fact that God makes all things new. The common phrase they use is that the church exists “to live and proclaim Christ’s redeeming love.” Their only hope and only purpose for existence is to see lives redeemed and made new because of God’s great love for us.
Over the last few years, I’ve had fellowship with leaders from some 60 denominations in one form or another. I’ve hosted them for meetings, looked for ways to encourage their faith, visited their headquarters, and attended their annual denominational meetings. In all of this, it continues to be true: we have more in common than we do that divides us. I hope that all of those who lead in my faith family of Southern Baptists will continue to partner with other Great Commission believers around the world. It is a dark place and we need as much light as possible.
It is a blessing to periodically look around and see who else is participating in God’s mission to make all things new.