I have been a part of the Anglican Church since I was in ninth grade. Even though I wasn’t formally “received” as an Anglican until around ten years later, I considered myself Anglican from pretty shortly after I started attending. I come from a Roman Catholic background, but my conversion to Anglicanism had less to do with what I was leaving than with what I was joining. I never felt any animosity or discomfort with the Roman Church. In fact, I pretty much held on to my Roman theology all the way until I got to seminary. No, I never felt like I was leaving something. I felt like I was joining something.
For many people, that something of Anglicanism is hard to define. People join the Anglican Church for all sorts of reasons. I think those reasons, diverse as they might be, come down to this: for us, the Anglican Church feels like family. It can be a messy and difficult family, but it is a family that we recognize. When I get together with my own family, we don’t all believe the exact same things the exact same ways. We don’t all want the exact same things. We have disagreements and disputes. But we always love each other. My family isn’t, and never has been dysfunctional. We are just a typical family.
That is what you see in Anglicanism, and it is explained very well in The Anglican Way by Thomas McKenzie. You have evangelicals and catholics. You have charismatics and orthodox. You have activists and contemplatives. You have conservatives and liberals. Each thing properly understood, and when not taken to an extreme, has a home within the Anglican Church. It is like a family. We can disagree with some of what others are doing, but it doesn’t mean they aren’t family. This doesn’t mean that there are no limits or boundaries. As we have seen and experienced with the Episcopal Church, one can get to an extreme that puts them outside of traditional Anglicanism and historic Christianity. But just because there are extremes that must be avoided, it doesn’t nullify the real diversity within the body.
Some families are dysfunctional, sadly. There may be destructive people within the family who tear it apart. Some families require everyone to be a certain way, believe a certain thing, or behave in a certain manner. Many denominations are this way. Of course, I don’t mean to suggest that any denomination (or non-denomination as the case may be) is dysfunctional if it doesn’t look like Anglicanism. But the metaphor works. In most denominations and churches there are much tighter boundaries. This is what it means to be Catholic, Presbyterian, Southern Baptist, etc. It can be hard to have that natural family feel if you exist within a body that expects everyone to be exactly alike in many ways. If you are Pentecostal and you don’t speak in tongues, you are out of the family. If you are an Orthodox Presbyterian and you do speak in tongues, you are out of the family. These are somewhat vulgar over-simplifications, but you get the point.
To the Anglican, both things are acceptable. I am not simply saying that it is ok that some do and some don’t speak in tongues. I am taking it even further than that. It is acceptable to believe in speaking in tongues as a Christian trait, and it is ok to believe that speaking in tongues and such gifts ceased at the end of the first century. It isn’t that both groups are right. Instead, this is about what it means to be Anglican. It means to not look for boundaries to divide us from one another, but to look for that which unites us as a family, even in our disagreement. For us, we recognize that if we are all adopted as sons and daughters of God, then we are family. Families fight. Families disagree. Families don’t always believe all the same things. Those things don’t make the family dysfunctional. They make them real families.
The Anglican Church is a real family. There are those even within New Life who hold vastly disparate, yet equally Christian views. There are those who speak in tongues, those that don’t, and those that think tongue speaking doesn’t exist. There are those that believe in women’s ordination and those that don’t. There are those that believe in predestination and election and those that are committed to their own free will. There are those who hold a high view of the sacraments and those that don’t care if they ever come to the Lord’s Table. All of these are present within New Life. In many ways, New Life is a microcosm of the Anglican Church as a whole.
In so many churches, so many people of disparate views could hardly exist alongside one another. In the Anglican Church, it is assumed that such diversity exists. It is what makes us Anglican. It is what makes us family. It is that kind of a family that I knew I was joining about 22 years ago, that I found so attractive. And it is that kind of a family which allows each of its members to grow and flourish in Christ.