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Hallo again to all on this Third Sunday of Easter.

Today we are thinking about denominations and denominationalism.

A while ago we had the opportunity to attend a service at an Assemblies of God church. Wikipedia tells us the Assemblies of God is 'the fourth largest international Christian group of denominations and the largest Pentecostal denomination in the world'. But it also notes the Assemblies of God is a group of over 140 'autonomous but loosely associated national groupings of churches'.

Perhaps 'loosely associated' is important to their success. Feuding between similar but not identical Baptist groups is well known, and is the subject of this famous joke. Feuding within the Church of England, never one to be called 'loosely associated', resulted in the submission by Archbishop of Canterbury Archibald Tait of the infamous 'Public Worship Regulation Act of 1874'*. Submitted to Parliament a few days before the Third Sunday of Easter, it resulted in the imprisonment of 5 rectors and vicars for engaging in 'ritualism' in public worship. Supported by Queen Victoria and Benjamin Disraeli in addition to Archbishop Tait, it took effect in July 1875 and was not repealed until 1965*.

Punch magazine on Archbishop Tait's attempt to control 'black sheep' churches
It provided criminal penalties for the use of unauthorized decoration, candles, furniture, or for not adhering rigidly to the Book of Common Prayer. Reading about the life of Archbishop Tait, one sees that he was consumed by the need to control congregations whose liturgical style he did not approve. The first clergyman prosecuted under Archbishop Tait's Act was charged with the use of incense, unauthorised vestments, and altar candles.

We have not spent enough time in and around Assembly of God congregations to have a strong sense of their identity. As visitors, we were treated very well. As observers, we noticed that no aspect of their worship service or material had any sense of history beyond that recorded in scripture. We saw no mention of tradition, no reference to how things had been done in the past. The worship service was entirely in the present and in the tiny bubble of history sketched in the Bible. Absent any expectation of how things ought to be done, it would have been meaningless to have conflict (much less criminal prosecution) over how they ought to be done.

But when there is a past, a tradition, a sense of how things ought to be done, it appears to trump denomination among the truly disaffected. The Philadelphia Inquirer recently published a story 'If ex-Catholic was a religion, it would be the third-largest in the United States'. It details the receiving end of the exodus from the Roman Catholic church. Whatever the reason for walking away from the RC church, these people demonstrate that liturgy and tradition matter more to them than denomination. No Vatican, no Pope, no Cardinals, no Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith. Just the missal, the music, the clergy, and each other. Research indicates most independent Catholic churches are filled with congregants steeped in the traditions of the religion. The phenomenon of non-Roman catholic churches is not new; the Old Catholic Church has been growing slowly for 150 years. The current exodus from Rome did not create this movement, but it has certainly helped it grow. Some Old Catholic churches are in full communion with Canterbury and the Anglican Communion.

As Lambeth 2020 approaches, it seems we ought not worry too much about denominational fractures. They have been around for many centuries, and yet somehow the church has managed to survive. Or is that 'churches'?

See you next week.

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All of us at Anglicans Online

5 May 2019

*While not repealed for some 90 years, prosecution of clergy under this bill ended in 1906.

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