Reformed Anglican Fellowship

Reformed Doctrine | Common Prayer

Reformed Doctrine | Common Prayer 

Dispute Resolution; Anglican Style

How do Anglicans resolve disputes?  Is it truly Anglican to search for common consent with no fixed principles or standards other than the desire to please the other side? 

No. This methodolgy called "Indaba" is NOT Anglican. Historically, Anglicanism takes the opposite point of view, that when we all subscribe to a fixed common confession, use a fixed common liturgy, and organize ourselves according to established standards and patterns, we're much more able to be united. This is our Anglican heritage, that we are well regulated, that we understand the proper use of authority and freedom.  Indeed, we are better equipped to resolve disputes than any other brand of Christianity. 

Six of the most difficult and common arguments in churches are about doctrine, the content of worship, the order of worship, the role of ministers, the design of organization, and of course sex and gender. 

In theory, Anglicans have very little to argue about because these issues are already decided.  The answers we have are intrinsic to what it is to be "Anglican."  Most churches don't provide any guidelines whatsoever; they leave all these matters up to congregations to decide, or even to individual persons. Other denominations have a confession to help them navigate contentious waters; usually addressing only the weighty matters of theology.  By contrast, the Anglican's confession addresses many issues in great detail.  It sets aside some issues to the rule of personal conscience, but it also suggests what ought to be good (bene esse) and declares what is essential (esse).

  1. Basic doctrine.
    • Anglicanism subscribes to what is taught in the Creeds, in the 39 Articles (1563), and in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer (with Ordinal). We also receive, not by way of subscription but by way of clarification what is taught in the Homilies and in certain additional confessions of the early Reformation era, where the Church of England was ecumenically associated; the Lambeth Articles of 1598, the Irish Articles of 1615 and the Canons of Dordt (1625). As a result, in all the many issues addressed by these documents, there is no reason for Anglicans wonder how to resolve doctrinal disputes.
  2. Content of Worship.
    • Anglicanism worships according to the Book of Common Prayer, and not just something with that label but it must be consistent with the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. We don't worship according to individual preference. Instead we have set prayers, songs, and rubrics for every phase of worship, and they have existed for hundreds or even thousands of years. We believe that maintaining them is both to honor the Lord and to honor our inheritance of faith. While certain components of worship are permitted to vary with the circumstances and culture of the gathered congregation, the essential content and style of worship must be within the established bounds of this specific prayer book.
  3. Order of Worship.
    • We also follow the order of worship established in this Book of Common Prayer. Although there are details that may be adjusted, here is the basic outline for both daily prayer and for Sunday worship.  All Anglican worship follows this general pattern.
      1. First we hear God's pronouncement upon our sins, which we then confess, and for which we then receive His forgiveness. 
      2. Then we read selections from the Psalms, the Law and the Prophets, the Gospels and the Epistles.  We publicly declare what we believe and we also hear the Word preached if a minister is available. 
      3. Then we direct our attention to the needs of the church and the concerns of our neighbors, by prayers of thanksgiving and petition and by taking up a collection.
      4. Then optionally, a minister will administer the Lord's sacraments as He commanded for those that are prepared to receive them, both Baptism and the Supper.
  4. Role of Ministers.
    • We follow what is prescribed in the 39 Articles and the Ordinal.  Our pastors and assistant pastors, which we call "presbyters" (or "priests") and "deacons" have specific duties to perform and well defined lines of authority, both within their ranks and between them and the laity,  for their assistance and for the sake of accountability. Our parishes are not owned by the clergy, nor are ministers autonomous. Bishops, Priests and Deacons are all serve subject to an election and call from "the congregation".  
  5. Design of Organization.
    • We use an "episcopal" form of government.  This means that at the head of our church, we have a "Bishop" whose duty is overseeing the operation of every part of every parish under his care.  It also means that every aspect of his diocese is subject to his rule, provided his actions remain within the bounds of our Formularies (39 Articles, Book of Common Prayer and Ordinal). It may be surprising to some, but Anglicanism's form of episcopal government has an elaborate system of checks and balances.
  6. Sex and Gender.
    • We have established rules here also. The Anglican liturgy called the "Solemnization of Matrimony" says emphatically that marriage is 1. a gift of God originally presented to Adam and Eve, 2. a public recognition of the joining of a man and a woman, 3. an institution for all men to honor, not just Christians.  Its purposes are also specific; to produce children, to remedy sin and to provide mutual help and comfort. Nothing could be more clear.

A Sad Conclusion. Theory vs. Reality

So in theory Anglicans are well regulated and know how to resolve most of the disputes that a church might have. Ironically, Anglicans are famous for just the opposite, for having no reliable boundaries of behavior.  We have a reputation for being unregulated and undisciplined, following a private sense of what is 'normal' and 'right', and convinced of no principle higher than what can be determined by mutual consent.  For these reasons, everyday life in many modern Anglican parishes is less than idyllic.

There can be many reasons for Anglicanism's failure to produce one mind in Christ on even the simplest of matters, but having a lack of regulation is not one of them. Anglicans do not have the excuse of ignorance, of never having been informed.


Reformed Doctrine | Common Prayer