jQuery Slider

You are here

ANCIENT FUTURE ANGLICANISM: An Essay in Anglican Renewal

This is not a stooping over a buried past but is a search fora rich prophecy for a living future

An Essay in Anglican Renewal

By Arthur Middleton
Special to Virtueonline
March 25, 2020

The General Synod celebrations after the vote for women bishops revealed that the members could not have realised what the vote signalled for the future of the Church of England. It illustrated that the Church of England had embraced the communal tyranny of political correctness that had failed during the French Revolution and in Soviet Russia and erupted in the nineteen eighties. As the latest appointment to the bishopric of London blatantly demonstrates, gender equality has become a principle, a determining factor in episcopal appointments, even though no man or woman has a right to be admitted to the apostolic order of the threefold ministry because it is not a matter of human rights. This principle is not derived from apostolic order but from the ideology of political correctness. The inclusion of women in the apostolic order of the threefold ministry means that such appointments in the future will be political appointments and a departure from the apostolic succession. It means that| women bishops do not possess the same power of jurisdiction, as indispensable to their office and for the extending of mission to inferior ministers. They are not part of the Apostolic Succession but belong to the politically correct succession which is man-made not God-given.

St, Irenaeus speaks of "bishops to whom the Apostles delivered the churches"; and St. Cyprian2 said, "that the Lord chose apostles, that is bishops"; and again, "for this, very reason especially, we do and ought to labour that we strive to hold fast as much as we can the unity appointed by the Lord, and delivered through the apostles to us their successors" 3 and St. Jerome, '"with us, bishops occupy the place of Apostles," 4 and "bishops are successors of the Apostles," 5

The episcopal order being of Divine institution is therefore unchangeable. The Fathers teach unanimously that it is essential to the constitution of the Christian Church. St. Ignatius says, "My soul be for theirs who obey bishop, presbyters, deacons ... without these there is no Church. "The mark of the body of Christ" says St. Irenaeus, "is according to the succession of bishops to whom the apostles delivered the Church which is in every place;" and St. Cyprian tells us that "the Church is in the bishop and the bishop is in the Church, and he who is not with the bishop is not in the Church.". St, Augustine and St. Optatus appeal to the succession of bishops in the Roman Church as proving that the Donatists were separated from the communion of the Catholic Church. The Church of England is now what Richard Hooker would describe as a sect of politically correct ideology and with it has died the Anglican mind.

The Death of the Anglican mind

In his 1987 Crockford's Preface Gareth Bennet warned of the death of the Anglican mind. What do I mean by the Anglican mind? The word 'mind', or in Greek phronema, is used in the way in which the early Christian Fathers used it in their theology to refer to the mindset or outlook, the orthodox mind of the Church. The attaining of this mind is a matter of practicing the correct faith (orthodoxia) in the correct manner (orthopraxia). This mind refers to the completely self-sacrificial trust and faith in religious and moral truths, an unshakeable certainty about the truth of the faith for all time, and the practice of orthodox Anglican worship, piety and behaviour. The Anglican mind is vested in the Anglican understanding of Scripture, tradition and reason, against all heresies and schisms of all times. Also, this mind is termed the 'mind of the Church' and thus 'the mind of Christ'.

Gareth Bennett is not the first person to highlight this crisis. Harry Blamires in his book The Christian Mind, wrote in 1963,

It is a commonplace that the mind of modern man has been secularised. For instance, it has been deprived of any orienta¬tion towards the supernatural. Tragic as this fact is, it would be so desperately tragic had the Christian mind held out against the secular drift. But unfortunately the Christian mind has succumbed to the secular drift with a degree of weakness and nervelessness unmatched in Christian history. It is difficult to do justice in words to the complete loss of intellectual morale in the twentieth-century. We cannot characterise it without having recourse to that which will sound hysterical and melodramatic ... no longer a Christian mind.

Dr. Eric Mascall, in a chapter entitled 'The Contemporary Crisis') cited numerous people such as Canon Smyth who commented that academic theologians gave the impression of belonging to a debating society preoccupied with textual criticism and philosophy, while in the parishes the real battle for the faith was being fought, in the Church 'amid much discouragement, combatting materialism and indifference'

Mascall claimed that " 'theology' in the proper sense of that word, the study of God and his creatures in relation to him is now in imminent danger of becoming virtually extinct'. N. P. Williams, the Lady Margaret Professor at Oxford, warned of this in 1933, contrasting theology as it had been understood in its grand period and as it was coming to be in his own time. It had ceased to mean science of God, its contents consisting in the cardinal ideas of the Christian religion and in the faculties of modern universities had become 'the science of men's thoughts about God'.

Today, the loss of this mind underlies the general ignorance of and antipathy towards the true spirit and practice of Classical Anglicanism and the widespread success of the revisionist and politically correct ideologies and agendas in the Anglican Communion. The hysteria surrounding Gareth Bennett's Crockford's Preface in 1987 missed its most important point. In a section entitled 'A Theology in Retreat', he pinpointed the crisis within Anglicanism as being fundamentally theological and stemming from a deliberate rejection of this balanced synthesis, the Anglican mind, which is a distinctive Anglican theological method. He pointed out that such a distancing of the modern Church from its prescriptive sources has serious consequences for Anglican ecclesiology and the rejection of 'living in a tradition' would not be readily acceptable by most modern Anglicans

In a church where one is not permitted 'to rock the boat', it was the Church of England that provided the 'vultures' that hounded Bennett to his suicide despite being assured of anonymity. Bennett was an academic historian, steeped in the Anglican tradition and with a concern for the future of the church he loved. He had the scholar's learned understanding of what it means to be an Anglican. He had been elected to represent the University of Oxford on General Synod. To his horror he found that a revolution had taken place in the mind-set of the establishment. Those not part of this mind-set would be excluded from the places where the mind of the Church was formed.

The preface was about the nature and identity of modern Anglicanism, a serious analysis of the malaise that faced Church of England in particular, and of Anglicanism, at least in Anglo-Saxon countries in general; that it has become deeply secularised which means that it has! become deeply committed to the assumptions and values of the present culture and age. Anglicanism has lost direction because it has ceased to be Anglicanism. The only viable alternative, advised Bennett, is to return to our own roots and learn from tradition.

Two Incompatible Religions

Fundamental in this Anglican Crisis is the emergence of two incompatible and competing religions within the Church, that are not mere differences of "emphasis" but profound differences about the content of Christian belief and the character of Christian life. They express themselves in the authority of experience, over against the authority of Divine revelation that is the basis of Christian orthodoxy.

For the orthodox Christian "Truth" (with a capital "T") has been definitively revealed in Holy Scripture, and authoritatively interpreted in the Christian Tradition. The Christian's response is in terms of belief, understanding, and obedience. "Relevance" then becomes a matter of seeking to apply established doctrinal and moral standards to the situation in which the Church finds herself. An Anglican sees his church as divinely commissioned in faith and order to maintain the faith "once for all delivered to the saints", with the responsibility of maintaining those standards, essentially unchanged from one age to another. The issue of women in the Apostolic Ministry is fundamentally a matter of order, which is not surprising when we speak about the Apostolic Ministry as Holy Orders. As the Preface to our Anglican Ordinal puts it:

It is evident unto all men diligently reading Holy Scripture and ancient Authors that from the Apostles' time there have been these Orders of Ministers in Christ's Church: Bishops, Priests, and Deacons.

Their divine source and authority is God to whom they belong and not men, which explains why these ancient Orders are called holy, because they were given by God and not because they were devised by humans. Our Prayer-book Collect for Embertide which is a prayer for Ordinands, acknowledges this in praying to God, who of His "divine providence hast appointed divers Orders" in His Church.

Richard Hooker (c.1554-1600), Anglican theologian par excellence, writes: "The ministry of things divine is a function which as God did himself institute. ..." Those in Holy Orders, he says, are "ministers of God as from whom their authority is derived, and not from men." Hooker's regard for the ministry is immeasurable:

The power of the Ministry of God translated out of darkness into glory; it raiseth men from the earth, and bringeth God himself down from heaven; by blessing visible elements it maketh them invisible grace; it giveth daily the Holy Ghost. . . .

Hooker says that in the light of "so great power," we cannot "imagine that any but God can bestow it!"2 Bishop Jeremy Taylor (1613-1667), another classical Anglican theologian, expresses similar respect for the divine grace of ordination: "The thing is sacred, separate, solemn, deliberate, derivative from God, and not of human provision, or authority, or pretence, or disposition." . Holy Orders, which are "not from men," are of God's own plan and making. The blueprint and copyright of Orders are clearly His, and they are found in God's own revelation of Himself, in Holy Scripture.

The Loss of Eschatology

The process that has produced women priests and women bishops and is fuelling the notion of what is wrongly defined as same-sex marriage, is a management exercise determined by politically correct ideology and not theological principle. It reduces Holy Order and Marriage to a functionalism, from a sacrament to a social and political issue, applies a secular law of equality and human rights, alters God's plan for Holy Order and Marriage, and ignores our paramount duty to the universal Church. The appointment of a Reconciler is part of the management method which according to the ACAS style of settling Trade Union disputes is to reconcile differing views. But this issue is not about human relations but about deeply held revealed theological convictions that are diametrically opposed to the politically correct ideology. There can be no reconciliation.

There seems little awareness of the 'War' in which we are involved or the underlying secular ways of thinking and behaving that are invading ecclesial life. The problem is that theology today has lost 'the life of the world to come' as a factor of the entire theological enterprise, shaping and permeating the entire Christian faith as its dynamic inspiration and motivation. The early Church judged and evaluated everything in this world in relation to 'the life of the world to come'. Its ultimate content and term of reference was not the world but the Kingdom of God.

A positive experience

So it was not a world denying, non-involvement in the world. but a positive experience, a certain way of looking at the world and experiencing it, an experience centred on the Church's self-fulfilment in the Eucharist on the Lord's Day, permeating the whole faith and life of the early Church. Within such a Kingdom-centred perspective one can approach the world with a Christian 'Yes' but with an equally emphatic Christian 'No', rather than accommodate the kingdom centred perspective to secular values, to a diversity in which anything goes in the fusion of secular notions that in Christian history would be termed heresy but today is termed diversity.

A sense of disorder pervades our culture and our churches. Poets and playwrights have been telling us for some time that our culture no longer has a stable centre or firm foundation. This is evident in our social and political consciousness. There seem to be few agreed boundaries, limits, or teachings, and the Christian church's traditional role in providing them in much of Western society is weaker today than at any time in Christian history. Life has become politicised around rights and segregation so that the politicians reduce even the sacrament of marriage to a social and political issue, to a mere legal contract that can be broken at will and where everything is determined by the secular mind.


The loss of 'the life of the world to come' as a factor in the theological enterprise leads to a world-centred ideology that diminishes the need for supernatural grace and reduces ministry to management rather than the saving of souls and theology to sociology. The Archbishop of Canterbury's plans for renewing the Church of England are based on such world-centred ideology, a secular determinism that reduces the priest to a manager and the Church to an organisation to be manipulated by management techniques and targets. So the language is, of doing, of a functionalism rather than of being, of ministry not priesthood. Gregory Nazianzen warns us that walking in the King's highway, which is a particular orientation of Christian living is always conscious of the life of the world to come, a kingdom-centred motivation that calls for special emphasis in today's Church. Our rule for the renewal of the Church will be the rule for the renewal of ourselves as priests, pastors and lay members. Its starting point must be the overcoming of our difficulty when attempting to assimilate ourselves to him who is our point of reference and departure, and in whom we live. The crisis of church life is based in the final analysis not on the difficulties of adaptation with regard to life today, but on the difficulties with regard to him in whom our faith has its roots and from whose being it draws its heights and its depths, its way and its future, Jesus Christ and his message of the Kingdom of God. Too often we try to adapt him to ourselves.

This whole mentality signifies that the Church of England and the Anglican Communion are not being true to their Anglican heritage. There is a rejection of the Judaeo-Christian Tradition, the historic episcopate, and in other matters of fundamental doctrine and morals this can happen again. Anglicans are ignoring their own Formularies expressed in Canon A5, the BCP and Ordinal and Apostolic Order therein enshrined. There is an ignoring of her membership of the universal Church and this has been in a process of creeping schism from it for years. The ecumenical achievements of the past century, including ARCIC, have been destroyed for there has been a total disregard for Christian unity and an unwillingness to take seriously the warnings of the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church. So what is the point of the Archbishop of Canterbury's words to his ecumenical partners stressing the fact that we need each other and the importance of unity, after an action that has placed an insuperable obstacle in the way of full Communion. Actions speak louder than words.

The late Professor Owen Chadwick wrote of Anglican divines in the seventeenth century; 10... if High Churchmen of that age like Bramhall or Thorndike had been asked what led them not to compromise, they would have replied in terms like the following:

Our paramount duty is to the Catholic Church; our sub¬ordinate and derivative duty is to the Church of England as the representative of the Catholic Church in this country. The Catholic Church is known by its faithfulness to the primi¬tive model. The Church of England has no choice but to follow that model, must seek to apply the principle rigorously and exactly.

"I am satisfied", wrote Thorndike in 1660," that the differences, upon which we are divided, cannot be justly settled upon any terms, which any part of the Whole Church shall have just cause to refuse, as inconsistent with the unity of the Whole Church

Chadwick went on to say that any act which divides the Church of England from the universal Church of the centuries is to be eschewed, even if that act offers temporary or local advantage; and the test of universality, in this sad, divided state of Christendom, may be found in appeal to the ancient and undivided Church of the first centuries.

It has always been the Anglican claim that in faith and order the Anglican Communion is continuous in identity with the Primitive Church. The principle was set forth by Bishop Jewel, one of the earliest Anglican apologists in the sixteenth century, when he wrote, "We are come, as near as we possibly could, to the Church of the apostles and of the old Catholic bishops and fathers".

More than that, Anglicans have continuously insisted that the Primitive Church of the undivided centuries is a doctrinal model. "We are willing to own this for a true mark of the Church", wrote William Payne is "its agreeing with the doctrine of the Primitive Church." McAdoo points out that in the Constitution "The Church of Ireland doth, as heretofore, accept and unfeignedly believe all the Canonical Scrip¬tures of the Old and New Testament, as given by inspira¬tion of God, and containing all things necessary to Salvation; and doth continue to profess the faith of Christ as professed by the Primitive Church." The principle was again underlined in the Preface to the Irish revision of the Book of Common Prayer in 1878:

All men . . . professed their love and reverence for the Book of Common Prayer in its main substance and chief parts, and confessed that it contained the true doctrine of Christ, and a pure manner and order of Divine Service, according to the Holy Scriptures and the practice of the Primitive Church.

He sees this as the attitude to the basic concept formulated, for example, in Jude 3: "the faith once for all delivered to the saints" and is expressed in the Church of England's Canon A5. This is forma¬tive for the Anglican ethos and it means that the content of faith cannot be changed by addition or omission, though each generation needs to develop into a deeper understanding of it and to express it in the idiom of its own time. The faith does not grow but the members of the Church grow into it according to the measure and capacity of man's developing self-understanding and comprehension of his world.

Does this preclude any developments?

Michael Ramsey, in The Gospel and the Catholic Church, posed this question. "In the Church of the New Testament we find Baptism, Eucharist, Apostles. In the subsequent centuries we find Baptism, Eucharist, the Bishops, the Bible, and Creeds. In what sense do these marks of the Church declare or obscure the Gospel of God?" He then goes on to show that the form of the ministry, of the canon of Scripture and of the creeds, work interdependently towards a two-fold continuing objective. That objective is to maintain the Church in the truth of the faith once for all delivered and to help members of the Church to express the fullness of member¬ship in and for the world. Ramsey then leads straight into what might be called a first distinguishing feature of Anglicanism as he relates the Anglican stress on the once-for-all character of the Gospel to the question of developments:

Developments then took place, but they were all tested. The tests of a true development are whether it bears witness to the Gospel, whether it expresses the general consciousness of the Christians, and whether it serves the organic unity of the Body in all its parts. These tests are summed up in the scriptures, wherein the historical gospel and the experience of the redeemed and the nature of the one Body are described. Hence, while the Canon of Scripture is in itself a development, it has a special authority to control and to check the whole field of development in life and doctrine. Judged by these tests and by Scripture which sums them up, the marks of the Church which we have just described are abundantly vindicated . . . .

There is thus raised at once the matter of Scripture being the standard and test of the truth of faith and this, as the Preamble and Preface already quoted indicate, is one of the essential aspects of the Anglican Communion's understanding of the faith. But to recapitulate, there is then no distinctively Anglican faith as such but rather the explicit claim of adherence to nothing but "the faith once for all delivered". This is what we mean by the Anglican mind. What this means is that there are no distinctively Anglican beliefs, but only the Christian faith as lived, proclaimed and taught by Anglicans. It was an attempt to set out factually a vital principle which has impelled Anglicanism to assert unequivocally its continuity of adherence to the unchanging faith: "keep safe that which has been entrusted to you" (1. Tim. 6:20); "keep before you an outline of the sound teaching which you heard" (2 Tim. 1:13).

It has always been the Anglican claim that in faith and order the Anglican Communion is continuous in identity with the Primitive Church.

The contest is between modern liberal ecclesiology and the Anglican mind, in a time when the majority of people in Church and Society have been brainwashed by the secular mind or have never known the Anglican mind or have never known the Anglican patrimony, making it difficult for them to respond to the argument of the Anglican mind.

Our Agenda

• To promote the conception of the Church which we have inherited, founded by the Lord Himself, perpetuated by direct succession from the Apostles, one in continuous history and in doctrine with the Primitive Church, filled with a supernatural and sacramental life, witnessing to a high moral standard before the world. To work for the reinstatement of discipline and doctrine in the prevailing secularization and dysfunctioning of the Church of England and the Anglican Communion.

To assert the reality of the Church as a spiritual body perpetuated by the Apostolic Succession recognising that we have received our Church from the Apostles as An Agenda for us all to follow

• To pursue the Anglican Way by upholding Canon A5 which states that the doctrine of the Church of England is grounded in the Holy Scriptures and is a divine inheritance conveying life through its Sacraments--this as against the innovations of the liberals reflected in the pervasive humanism and apostasy in the Church and sometimes supported in Parliament.

• To assert the authoritative doctrinal character of our Anglican formularies as against the liberalism so often evident in the deliberations of the General Synod.

• To recall Anglicans to the revival of neglected truth and 'principles of action which had been in the minds of our predecessors of the seventeenth century.' As the Oxford Fathers urged 'Stir up the gift of God that is in you.'

• To uphold and elucidate the doctrines of the Catholic Faith as Anglicans have received them and to work for the expression of such doctrine by the avoidance of the dumbing down effect of the language of 'political-correctness' in liturgy and biblical translations.

• To resist today's new insidious Erastianism, the interference of the Government in the affairs of the Church, whereby a government can dictate to the Church what its doctrine and morality should be as a result of various types of discriminatory law.

• To work for the unity in truth and holiness of all Christians and as Anglicans to bring our own characteristic contribution as our fathers have taught us, according to the Apostolic Doctrine and Polity of our Church.

• To bring recognition to the reality that the way of salvation is the partaking of the Body and Blood of our sacrificed Redeemer by means of the holy Sacrament of the Eucharist and. that the security for the due application of this is the Apostolic Commission. We cannot and do not accept therefore the innovation of women priests and women bishops since sacraments are from God and we cannot tamper with them. The sacraments must never be humanly manipulated on the basis of the politico-sociological arguments of the times and so-called 'human rights'.

• To be on our watch for all opportunities of inculcating a due sense of this inestimable privilege; to provide and circulate information, to familiarize the imaginations of people with the idea; to attempt to revive among Churchmen the practice of daily common prayer and the more frequent participation in the Eucharist.

• To urge the bishops and clergy to a fuller realization of their divine gift of Holy Order as successors of the Apostles and ordained ministers


In the spirit of John Henry Newman , the aim is not the seeking of our own well-being, or originality, or some new invention for the Church. Let our prayer be that God will give us sound judgement, patient thought, discrimination, a comprehensive mind, and abstinence from all private fancies and caprices and personal tastes.1 Let us seek only the standards of saintliness and service as the measure of our activities.

Let the secret for us lie in those words of Our Lord's High Priestly prayer, ' For their sakes I consecrate myself,' so uniting his humanity with God in the way of holiness that he may capture the reality of that life within the Blessed Trinity and be inspirated by the divine life he lives with Christ in the Holy Spirit. For it is only as we make our home in Him, as he made his home in the Father that we will be able to do anything.

There is the ultimate secret of power; the one sure way of doing good in our generation. We cannot anticipate or analyse the power of a pure and holy life; but there can be no doubt about its reality, and there seems no limit to its range. We can only know in part the laws and forces of the spiritual world; and it may be that every soul that is purified and given up to God and to His work releases or awakens energies of which we have no suspicion - energies viewless as the wind; but we can be sure of the result, and we may have glimpses sometimes of the process.

Surely, there is no power in the world so unerring or so irrepressible as the power of personal holiness. All else at times goes wrong, blunders, loses proportion, falls disastrously short of its aim, grows stiff or one-sided, or out of date - 'whether there be prophesies they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away'; but nothing mars or misleads the influence that issues from a pure and humble and unselfish character.

A man's gifts may lack opportunity, his efforts may be misunderstood and resisted; but the spiritual power of a consecrated will needs no opportunity, and can enter where the doors are shut. By no fault of a man's own, his gifts may suggest to some the thoughts of criticism, comparison, competition; his self-consecration can do no harm in this way. Of gifts, some are best for long distances, some for objects close at hand or in direct contact; but personal holiness, determining, refining, characterising everything that a man says or does, will tell alike on those he may not know even by name, and on those who see him in the constant intimacy of his home."


FOOTNOTE: Sadly I could not replicate all the footnotes for this masterful piece.

Get a bi-weekly summary of Anglican news from around the world.
comments powered by Disqus
Trinity School for Ministry
Prayer Book Alliance

Land of a Thousand Hills Coffee

Drink Coffee

Do Good

Sustainable Ministry

Coffee, Community, Social Justice


Go To Top