Why I remain an Anglican
by the Rev. Dr. John Heidt
Given the disarray of the Episcopal Church some of my friends and colleagues are jumping ship, abandoning ECUSA to join the Roman Catholic Church, one of the Eastern Orthodox Churches or perhaps the Continuum. Yet I for one have no desire or intention of becoming a Roman Catholic or, for that matter a Lutheran or a Methodist or a Baptist, or even a Buddhist, Druid or Mohammedan.
I have always been an Anglican in the Episcopal Church. God immersed me in this Church - into its various dioceses and particular parishes. I know nothing else. From Episcopalian priests and teachers I learned the Christian faith and came to know Jesus Christ. From within the Episcopal Church I received the Catholic religion - a religion that courses through my veins and is in the very air I breathe. The Catholic religion informs all my thinking, it moves my heart towards others when I would rather stay within myself; it compels me to do what is right when it would be easier to do what is wrong or nothing at all. Catholicism defines my character. I can be nothing else. No one can take it away from me, no argument can dissuade me from my inheritance, no church can betray who I am.
Should we all then stay where we are and be content with whatever church or religion God has been pleased to place us? If so, then those are right who say that one religion is just as good as another. But this betrays the Lordship of Jesus Christ, makes conversions obsolete by denying the Great Commission and deprives all evangelists of their mission.
Surely this cannot do and few if any really believe it in their heart. There must be some way of evaluating one religion over another, some standard for deciding that some other religion or church may be better than the one I now confess. What shall it be? As a Catholic Christian the only standard I can find is catholicity, wholeness, completeness or, in plain English, comprehensiveness.
Where beyond Ecclesia Anglicana may I find a greater Catholicity? As an Anglican I am already fed by what other churches have to offer: Scripture and the Catholic doctrine of the undivided church, sacraments given by Jesus Christ and His Church through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, a spiritual discipline formed by the saints. I need nothing more; I can be satisfied with nothing less.
Catholicity or comprehensiveness is Anglicanism’s primary characteristic. This is its virtue; it is also its danger. For it is easy to confuse Catholicism with a vague universalism and comprehensiveness with an eclecticism which believes that differences make no difference. Without some kind of control, bizarre doctrines and esoteric rituals can run rampant. From time to time we must reign in the wild horses of heresy with the use of scripture and the apostolic tradition. Yet even when we think that we have defeated the enemy at the gate, the stampede of secular paganism still continues to assault the church, knocking on the doors of the faithful, rapping at the windows of officialdom, and gathering up uninstructed innocent converts in its embrace.
Within the confines of the Episcopal Church fighting the battle for Catholic orthodoxy these days can be very difficult, and I shall sometimes have to dissociate myself from many of ECUSA’s official actions and perhaps even place myself in a different Anglican province. Yet I cannot be anything other than an Anglican. As a follower of Jesus Christ I cannot become a pagan secularist. Nor can I abandon the apostolic ministry and sacraments by associating myself with one of the Protestant sects. My only alternative is to join up with some group of Christians who, like me, lay claim to Catholicity. So all that is left is Eastern Orthodoxy or Roman Catholicism.
But both these options are out of the question. As a thoroughgoing Catholic I am bound to deny all denials and negations of catholicity. Yet if I should join one of the Orthodox Churches, I would have to deny that I have ever been part of the real Church, and if I became Roman Catholic I would have to deny that I have ever been a real priest or received and given real sacraments. But my catholicity and my priesthood I can never deny.
And even if I should leave the Episcopal Church, or Anglicanism itself, what difference would it make in the continuing battle for orthodoxy? Not one less woman would continue to act as though she was a Catholic priest, not one gay marriage would be cancelled and Episcopalian bishops would doubtless continue to deny the central tenets of scripture, creed and apostolic tradition.
No, it is not easy these days being an Anglo-Catholic in the Episcopal Church. For that matter it is not easy being a Christian wherever we are. We are under attack on all sides, whether from within or without God’s holy church. It is this church, founded by Christ, which has the fullness of faith and the means of salvation, that is complete in itself as the Mystical Body of Christ, that is, in a word, Catholic. Anglicans are a part of that and there I remain, called by God, with all those who love Him, to fight for the Faith against the manifold assaults of the enemy.
Marriage and the Wedding Feast of the Lamb
What is the Anglican Communion?
The care and nurture of your parish priest
Two religions in collision
The Rev. Dr. John Heidt served as Canon Theologian of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth from 2003 till his death in the autumn of 2009. This article, written in the early 1990s for the London Daily Telegraph newspaper, remains timely and was recently reprinted in Forward in Christ, the magazine of Forward in Faith.
Canon Heidt's 50-year ministry was founded on an education at Yale University, Nashotah House Seminary, and Oxford University and flourished through years of parish priesthood – often in challenging urban settings – in both the U.S. and England.
“Why I remain an Anglican” is republished with permission of the Heidt family.