Anglo-Catholics and Anglican decline

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Peter Corney is a leading evangelical Anglican in Melbourne. He takes a look at Anglican decline and especially the decline of the Anglo-Catholic movement within the Anglican church.

Here is his (edited) list of trends that have contributed to Anglo-Catholic decline:

1. Anglo-Catholics drifted away from the credal and biblical orthodoxy of its founders and gradually embraced a reductionist liberal theology. Most people in ministry now who have been influenced by this movement could be more accurately described as “liberal catholic”.

In spite of its claims to be broad and open, Liberal theology is frequently intellectually narrow and provincial. It becomes trapped in the immediate landscape of the spirit of the age and what its host society finds plausible or implausible.

2. They allowed a recovered incarnational theology to become unbalanced. The idea of the importance of “presence”, particularly presence with the poor, eventually over-powered the importance of proclamation. So instead of a balance of “the whole gospel for the whole person” confidence in preaching was eroded and the link between word and deed fatally weakened. The inevitable eventually happened: preaching, evangelism and proclamation were devalued and diminished.

3. As reductionist liberalism ate the heart out of its theology, the distinctiveness of Anglo-Catholicism was left to depend more and more on its particular liturgical, symbolic and cultural expressions.

This style was well out of step with ordinary Australians and further marginalised Anglicanism from the mainstream of Australian life. We were fast becoming a boutique church.

4. Because the emotional tendency of the movement has been to look backwards to a very late-19th Century English expression of Anglicanism, the movement failed to assist the process of really grounding Anglicanism in Australian culture. The model of the English village church is a sentimental and anglophile vision that has been fostered by the movement and helped to alienate us from Australian culture.

5. They focussed on a pastoral maintenance model of ministry and so did not grow churches. The emphasis on the priestly role fed this trend.

6. Because of the tendency to look backwards nostalgically to the English village or cathedral model and ethos, and their commitment to more formality in worship, they were very slow to embrace contemporary and informal styles in worship and music. They were totally unprepared for the rejection of formality in the 70s and 80s by the “Boomers”.

7. The Parish Communion Movement of the 1920s and 30s was a child of Anglo-Catholicism. The idea was that the principal service of the day should be Holy Communion and that everyone should be present including youth and children. This view had several very negative effects:

(a) Other non-eucharistic services disappeared. This created a barrier for non-communicants and fringe people.

(b) Because it downplayed Sunday Schools, insisting children be in the whole service, children’s and youth ministry suffered.

8. The issue of women’s ordination created a crisis in the Anglo-Catholic movement. The traditionalists were opposed but their offspring, the liberal Catholics, were pro. As the traditionalists are now a minority, their bitter rearguard action failed. This has left many unhappy legacies and further weakened the movement.

Visit Peter's blog for the full version.