ACR Journal

Why We Should Say Yes to Sydney and Anglican!

“Are you here because we are a good boat to fish from or because you want to be an Anglican clergyman?”

This question, asked during my Sydney Anglican ordination interview process, took me on a journey in which I became deeply committed to both Sydney and Anglicanism. My faith was birthed through low-church gospel ministry where the prominence and significance of the sacraments and of bishops was paltry at best. I was taught that the gathering was where it was at, and that “we will certainly be in danger of [despising the true church of God] if we exalt ecumenism, or denominationalism, or diocesanism above the unity of the local church”.[1]

In my view, this right theology has often been over-applied; that is, in an effort to ensure the right place of the local church in our theological thinking, many have come to despise denominationalism and diocesanism. Not only is this theologically unnecessary, but the end result is that fewer people start a theological education with a denominational vision and so church planting, chaplaincy and student work (the so-called ‘frontline ministries’) are attracting the attention of candidates in greater and greater numbers. Somehow, our pursuit of right theology has cannibalised the gathering it sought to protect.

Twenty-five years into formal Anglican ministry in the Diocese of Sydney, I am still here because I want to be an Anglican clergyman. Sure, I’d be equally content serving the Lord Jesus in a different type of work, but there is something marvellously compelling about wearing the badge that says both Sydney and Anglican. I have identified five distinctive elements that have shaped both me and the church I serve that make it both something to be thankful for and a ministry worth unashamedly embracing for a lifetime.

First, Anglicanism is profoundly gospel-shaped. From the first page of the Prayer Book, you will find gospel truth abounding. Littered throughout is the news that “salvation is found in no-one else [but Jesus], for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). This eternal reality has shaped the Thirty-Nine Articles, the Creeds, the Homilies and the prayers. Of course, if you find yourself amidst a low-church gospel ministry as I did, news of a Prayer Book may seem entirely foreign, but the reality is that everything that takes place in your church has been and is being shaped but the foundational gospel legacy found therein. If not for that book, written in 1662 and built upon since then, you would not have the clarion call of the gospel ringing from the pulpit, piano, and prayers, Sunday by Sunday.

A younger, immature version of myself once foolishly found itself in an argument with Dr Peter Jensen about the uselessness of the Prayer Book. Needless to say that when he reminded me that even those who have abandoned the Scriptures but follow the Prayer Book week by week unknowingly proclaim the life-giving gospel to each other through the Service of Holy Communion, I closed my mouth and gave thanks that even those who have abandoned the gospel continue to proclaim it because of our gospel foundations.

Secondly, Anglicanism is wondrously biblically-centered and theologically governed. From the beginning, not only did we establish the reading and preaching of the Scriptures as the high point of our gatherings, but the Reformers enshrined a ‘local adaptability’ principle. The expectation of the Prayer Book was that ministry would change and alter in accordance with the times by the legitimate authority of those who were authorised to deem it expedient or necessary. Essentially, thinking theologically from the Scriptures about the nature of church practice and ministry was enshrined from the beginning. Those who feel locked in or restricted by Anglicanism are the same group who do not understand it. In all its iterations, the expectation of Anglicanism is that we will be driven back to the Scriptures again and again to shape our gospel proclamation for our hearers without reshaping the gospel. This marvellous principle has undergirded for me enormous creativity in ministry without losing the safe mooring and shelter that is the Lord Jesus Christ.

All that said, we here in Sydney need to keep learning how to uphold established truth and practice with greater and greater humility and grace. GAFCON has been a great pathway to this for me as we have gathered with gospel-shaped, biblically-centered Anglicans from around the world whose expression of ministry is often radically divergent. We must continue to draw the comb of the Scriptures and deep theological thinking across our own teaching and practice and allow others to do the same for us.  

Third, and building on our biblically-centered approach, we are teaching-focused. The church puts at the forefront of what it does, the very thing it should do – preach the Word. Paul’s charge to his apprentice in 2 Timothy 4 remains the charge of the clergyperson. My most recent license instructs me to “preach the Word of God and perform other ecclesiastical duties”. One clear instruction and one general instruction. One focus from which all other foci might build from. There is no doubt that care, prayer, and personal devotion are crucial to the life and work of the clergy, but most crucial is the preaching of the Word for the growth in maturity and godliness of the church. Anglicanism expects that you will make it so. There are many duties that a clergyperson could do and many the world expects we should do, but there is one that Anglicanism demands we must do: teach the Bible.

Fourth, Anglicanism is future thinking. Throughout the Prayer Book is an expectation that the next generation of pastors will be prayed for, raised up, encouraged, and trained. You might say that there is an expectation that things we hear taught in the Bible are to be entrusted to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others (2 Tim 2:2). By this point you may be thinking, he just keeps going on about the Prayer Book – and you would be right. But my purpose here is to show you that at the heart of Anglicanism is everything you would expect church to be. Far from being ‘of another age’, everything is thought through, even the future. The structure of Anglicanism encourages succession planning and passing the baton to the next generation through modelling, education, and training. While Jesus tarries, we need reliable men and women to teach others, and our denominational structures provide excellent pathways for this to come to fruition. Indeed, the joy of the powerhouse of a diocese is that as a church leader you can keep preaching the Word while others support you in the task of entrusting the work to the next generation.     

Finally, Anglicanism is globally visioned. The structure of Anglicanism means that every corner of the globe is in a parish and is a concern of the church because every human is a concern of God. Our globally visioned church reminds us of the fact that in eternity, men and women from every nation, tribe, people, and language, will stand before the throne and before the Lamb (Rev 7:9). The beauty in this is that Anglicanism is never limited to the church, but every new estate or town, school or university is already in a parish, already being prayed for, and already has a team of people ready to minister to it. That is not to say that there cannot be more, but it is to say that anything new is already the concern of the church that is already there. 

There is so much more that could (and perhaps should) be said but I am proud of the Sydney and Anglican badge I wear and I invite you to join me in ministry in this boat – not just because it is a good boat to fish from, but because it is built on foundations that are unashamedly worth embracing for a lifetime of ministry. You may be an Anglican who has never held a Prayer Book, never seen a vestment, and never understood the role of a Bishop, but I guarantee you that your faith has been shaped by a people and a history that keeps putting first things first and has done so for more than 450 years. If I was starting again, my answer to the ordination question would be – both!

This article is from the ACR’s 2020 Winter Journal

[1] Donald Robinson, The Church of God: Its Form and Unity (Punchbowl: Jordan Books, 1965), reprinted in Donald Robinson: Selected Works Volume 1, p. 251.