Anglicans around the world struggle with this question as we strive to bear faithful witness to issues of faith, justice and inclusion. The old traditional answer (Anglicans uphold Scripture, Prayer Book, 39 Articles, and the Homilies) no longer makes sense, and never really did. The old definition tells us what is on our bookshelf, but does not tell us what specific charism shapes the Anglican approach to living the Gospel of Christ. At the 1930 Lambeth Conference (the every-ten-years gathering of Anglican bishops from around the world), the bishops identified the four ideals that have always shaped true Anglicanism*. In making this list, the bishops acknowledged that as Anglicans we live these ideals imperfectly.
To be Anglican is to live faithfully towards:
1. An Open Bible: The Reformation gave back to us the ability to read the Scriptures in our own language, to reflect on the meanings, and to form our own understandings of the Gospel. An open Bible invites and demands that we discover in each new generation what wisdom and truth the Spirit is revealing to us through the scriptures.
2. A Pastoral Priesthood: Anglican priests stand with the people of God in our common human condition, and Anglican priesthood is an expression of our common priesthood in Christ through baptism. Anglican priests are pastoral in the sense of servant leadership: caring for all the people of God and ensuring none get lost along the way.
3. A Common Worship: Anglican worship is community worship, where all the people participate with understanding and commitment. This is why all our worship texts are contained in the "Book of Common Prayer". Worship without real participation by the community may be lovely sacred theater, but it is not true worship.
4. A Fearless Love of Truth: Anglican scholarship has often been at the forefront of engaging truth wherever it is to be found, daring to ask hard questions and challenge assumptions. Anglicans have led the way in biblical studies, ethics, theology, and the 'hard' and social sciences. It is also this charism that keeps Anglican life most lively, as in every generation some Anglicans are more fearless than others! The Anglican commitment to the dialog between Scripture, Tradition, and Reason is woven throughout these four ideals. In each of these ideals, there is always a tension between individual experience, and experience of the People of God as a whole. It is our commitment to live in this tension that has been a hallmark of the historic Anglican tradition.
Commitment to living in this tension in spite of our human imperfection is another way of saying that Anglicans are uniquely committed to trusting that through this tension, the Spirit is ever leading us forward to greater understanding.