Contemporary Anglican Episcopal Perspectives
In recent months I have been distributing a variety of classic Anglican
Christian texts, mostly without commentary, most recently as part of weekly
readings in preparation for contemplative prayer in various groups.
I think most people who receive these writings understand the rationale for
my distributions. Some have said such things, in all friendship, as "I think you
are really more conservative than you are saying." Second guessing my selection
of texts may be a symptom of the current endemic predisposition toward
polarization. Polarization itself must be dissolved, transformed, into the
Spirit of Anglicanism—which is but a manifestation of the Spirit in whom we all
live-- and its theological, ecclesiastical, and missionary manifestations. See
for example Rowan Williams sermon "Against Anxiety, Beyond Triumphalism," in
A Ray of Darkness, Cowley, 1995.
Here are some of my thoughts.
I agree with Rowan Williams when he articulates George Florovsky’s view of
church history as the "charismatic memory" of the Church. (Why Study the Past)
For me personally the delving into past documents and texts of our Anglican
history will usually yield gifts from the Spirit for us in the present. This is
archeological, and is matched by being eschatological. This is not to say that
"looking deeply" into the present does not also yield gifts from the Spirit for
us. For me both the Church and the Holy Scriptures are charisms, and
their "life" –past and present—is a manifestation of the Spirit. Church history
is itself tradition, and tradition is all charism, then and now,
in this sense.
Deeply conservative liberalism.
I keep telling people in conversation that I am so supportive of the
contemporary Episcopal church’s social commitments—e.g. Bishop Schori’s
leadership for inclusion—because I am such a traditional, conservative
Sometimes people are apparently mis-hearing this. Here is what I mean.
The Anglican Network, and perhaps Anglican Christians in Nigeria and
elsewhere in the communion, seem to be making the appeal to their positions on
the basis of traditional and conservative Anglicanism, traditional and
conservative Christianity. It is my perspective, and conviction, that the
traditional, conservative classic writings of our Anglican tradition are in fact
what makes the Episcopal Church have the social commitments and vocation we
presently have. I believe people in our pews, fellow clergy, the community at
large, and eventually our Anglican Network fellow Christians should at least
hear this and think about it. The Episcopal church in America has not been
co-opted, hijacked, seduced, and hypnotized by post-Enlightenment liberal
culture that has gone off the rails. It is instead following the directions and
implications of the conservative, traditional lines of Anglican Christianity. It
is conservative and traditional Anglicanism to be inclusive, and socially
I add that a careful listening to Richard Rohr (Center for Action and
Contemplation in Albuquerque, NM), will hear his conviction that much
cultural liberalism, if it is not grounded in transformative spiritual practice,
will be rootless.
Liturgy of the Word.
I have written several pieces in which I cite Hooker and others in regard to
the stool of authority which is actually multi-legged, not just three-legged.
do this in particularly strong contrast to Anglican Network leaders, as well as
friends of mine at the (Anglican Network) Church of the Holy Spirit
in Tulsa, who keep sounding the sola scriptura (Bible alone)
position. I keep teaching that it is not surprising that the Evangelical stream
of Anglican Christianity—as well as pervasive Christian Evangelicalism-- has had
this effect on contemporary Episcopalians. In my experience there is an
embedded, largely unthinking assumption in much American religious culture which
comes out as sola scriptura in many ways. Classic, traditional,
conservative Anglican Christianity has a different tradition where reason and
scripture—and Orandi, worship and prayer-- are mixed and engaged in many
places, and the interaction is itself central, definitive as Christian praxis,
the heart of the tradition, not some sophistical aberration. Benedictine
lectio divina. The entire tradition of Eastern Orthodoxy and the desert
tradition. Powerfully and notably in Anselm of Canterbury. If you want to watch
the development of an English Christian from a non-conformist, Evangelical
background into a Anglican Christian leader and teacher who is a liberal Anglo
Catholic and who studied the Scriptures and Eastern Orthodoxy for the rest of
his life, study the writings of—and writings about — Michael Ramsey (Archbishop
of Canterbury, 1962-1974).
To say it baldly: Jesus is not sola scriptura in his preaching and
teaching. Nor is Paul. You simply don’t have to look deeply into the New
Testament to see this. Do we really think Paul was to be seen striding around
the Mediterranean world with a copy of the King James Version of the Bible
tucked under his arm, or holding it above his head when he preached? The idea
would be, is, patently ridiculous, if it weren’t for generations of the
misrepresentation of scripture which the sola scriptura mentality has
created. When Christians hold our hands in the orans position, they are
empty. Or perhaps we are imagining that when sola scriptura
corrects the benighted Episcopal Church, celebrants of Eucharist will hold the
Bible up when they hold their hands in the orans position, hold the Bible
up at the same time they elevate the host and the cup, having people come to the
altar rail carrying their Bibles in their hands for communion, and being given
portions of Scripture instead of the Body and the Blood.
In this light, I cannot recommend highly enough the book Evangelicals and
Tradition: The Formative Influence of the Early Church, by D.H. Williams
(Baker Academic, 2005), an Evangelical Christian, professor at Baylor
University, who roundly and thoroughly discredits the sola scriptura
posture (as did Hooker), because he believes it is bad tradition and poorly
It is perhaps difficult to "sound the certain trumpet" of traditional
Anglican spirituality of the liturgy of the Word in a milieu of Joel Osteen’s
practice of having throngs hold up their bibles and repeat variations of the
sola scriptura formula. Yet, I think that social ministry is not the only
trumpet we must clearly sound. The Anglican Christian mission does indeed
include being clearly and strongly and persuasively heard in regard to our
liturgy of the Word. Yes, lectio divina is (heaven forbid) a Latin word,
yes, it is a more demanding spiritual discipline than Evangelical scripturalist
methods. But this is our tradition, our inspiration, our liturgy of the Word, a
way we have been given from deep in our Anglican and pre-Anglican Christian
traditions. Who is the traditor here, when these traditions are unknown,
untaught, propagandized against, tossed away?
At this point it becomes something beyond "catching" this understanding by
attending the services of the Episcopal Church over time. It is something of a
public relations project which deserves thought, creativity, resources, and
missionary zeal. This may well be an internal effort in our local congregations
as well. I have yet to write the case study of what took place at the Church of
the Holy Spirit in Tulsa. Short version: few people ever were shepherded or "discipled"
into anything other than the sola scriptura view. Nor could I find among
my friends anything remotely resembling the conservative, traditional
Anglicanism which I keep pointing to. Ironically (and tragically from someone
with my perspective in regard to charismatic renewal) when push came to shove, a
gently charismatic Episcopal congregation became yet another American "Bible
church" who now thinks it is deepening its relations with the Anglican
Word as Defense for the Anxious Ego: 1. Church and Word as Charism: 0
This failure, in my view, is not what charismatic Christians do to the
Episcopal Church. This failure is what evangelical Christians seem to do to the
"And Mystic Sweet Communion."
I often say that the Church’s experience makes mystics of us all.
By this I mean that one definition of mysticism is believing in what is not
seen. When Christian unity is not seen, when schism is what is seen, we
experience an involuntary mysticism, one we would not have chosen. Mark the
Ascetic in the Philokalia describes this as involuntary adversity, which
turns us deeply to God. Meister Eckardt taught that we fall and fall in the
darkness until we are born up, we know not how.
When we no longer see what we believe mirrored back to us, but instead what
we see is unrecognizable, beyond semblance, when our beliefs are not "realized"
or discernable in our social environment, including the Church, there is an
involuntary ascesis, a prying from our hands and minds that which we
thought we were holding to, so that we may not confuse the charisms with
the Bestower. Our kataphatic "objects" – especially our "church homes" or
cultural homes – when apparently taken from us, leave us in the "cloud of
unknowing," the apophatic, mystical place of wilderness.
Humbly I adore Thee, Verity unseen, who thy glory hidest ‘neath these shadows
Lo, to thee surrendered, my whole heart is bowed, tranced as it beholds thee,
Shrined within the cloud.
God, the Church, friends, adversaries: all hidden.
When koinonia fellowship with friends and clergy who have been experienced as
sisters and brothers appears to disappear, clouded in a passionate barrage of
blogs and vituperation, our communion is understood to be what it always really
has been: mystical.
Don Lawrence, Chris Waters (clergy friends who have left the Episcopal Church
recently), the LCMS Lutheran church, Baptists, Roman Catholics-- some breaks
acutely painful in the immediacy of separation, some accepted with a
generations-long resignation—all recede into a deeper, less visible realm of
God’s communion, so we see in a glass even more darkly, our gaze toward one
another being, as T.S. Eliot says, submarine, looking up through unquiet water.
And as Michael Ramsey taught in many places of his writing, our contemplation
moves toward intercession, a heart-expanding struggle to hold the opposites,
like Jesus holding the divine and human, and Anglicanism seeking to "hold" all
the diverse threads, returning again into contemplation, in humility which is
voluntary or involuntary, because we cannot hold it all ourselves or our hearts
are not yet ready.
"Prayer is by nature a dialogue and a union of man with God. Its effect is to
hold the world together." John of Climacus
The Qur’an in Islam and the Bible in Christianity.
In many contexts of the Anglican communion, as well as other Christian
communities, the sharp contrast between historic Christianity’s liturgy with its
Bible and Islam’s views of the Qur’an makes for difficulties in Christian
apologetics. I believe this is a contemporary context for some Christians’
preoccupation with the issue of Biblical authority.
This issue is not something to be attended to in short thoughts I’m offering
The Muslim world, for the most part, genuinely believes that it has been, in
multiple and decisive ways, more true to and conserving of the revelation of the
Qur’an, than either Jews or Christians have been stewards of either the text or
the contents of God’s revelations to them.. It is, if not a scandal, certainly a
point of definitive "supersession" – not an Islamic word—for them that
Christians have many versions of the Bible, that the writers of the Gospels seem
to be providing their own human, imperfect memories and renderings of the Word
brought through the prophet Jesus, and a variety of other perceived limitations
and inadequacies of Christianity’s Bible.
The only point I want to make here is that Christianity cannot use Islamic
standards for Christian scriptures. The two religions—with the exception of
Christian versions of Biblical fundamentalism—simply have significantly
different traditions for understanding the integrity and reliability—and of
course contents-- of their sacred scriptures.
It is not a question of Christians "outdoing" Muslims from within a framework
of how Muslims believe "people of the Book" should practice a spirituality of
preserving sacred revelation.
In my view this question ultimately has less to do with the authority of
sacred scriptures and more to do with becoming co-pilgrims in a shared world.
These are huge historical issues. It is my present conviction that Christian
contemplative prayer and the Islamic tradition of dhikr, or remembrance
of God—convergent with the Orthodox tradition of the Jesus prayer and the "one
word" prayer of the Cloud of Unknowing—is at least as promising a path to
venture upon together than a path of apologetical contests about the authority
In this light, I also recommend that people find and study the works of the
Jesuit Sebastian Painadoth, most recently We are Co-Pilgrims: Toward a
Culture of Inter-religious Harmony, Indian Society for Promoting Christian
Knowledge, 2006. (Not available yet through Amazon).
Painadath, a Christian leader in the ashram movement, and drawing from the
Hindu tradition, articulates an "Inter-Religious Hermeneutics in Theology." It
is no doubt easier to explore this in the context of India, with its long
tradition of "many pathways up the mountain," than among Christians and Muslims.
However, to speak personally, when I place my head upon the earth at the Sunni
mosque I sometimes visit, in prayer among my "brothers to be" (i.e. we must
become what we already are), I know that such a pilgrimage is a path to dare.
Pentecost is not only the Pentecost of the nations, it is the Pentecost of all
the world’s religions and their "languages." As the communitiy sings in the
Gayatri mantra at the Christian ashram, Osage Monastery Forest of Peace, in Sand
Springs Oklahoma: "Universal Lord I bow to you."
About the author:
Dr. Glandon is an Episcopal clergyman, the executive director of the
Center for Counseling and Education in Tulsa, a diplomate in the American
Association of Pastoral Counselors, and an Associate of the Order of
Julian of Norwich. He is a graduate of the Pecos Benedictine Monastery’s
School for Spiritual Directors and is member of Spiritual Directors
International. He leads five weekly "contemplative practice" groups.
For further study:
Rabindranath Tagore, "The Gitanjali" (Song Offerings), 1913, at:
"Scripture, tradition and reason -- Hooker’s supposed 3-legged stool,"
Original posting: 2007-MAY-29
Latest update: 2007-MAY-29
Author: Clyde Glandon