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By Roger Salter
February 15, 2017

Institutionally Anglicanism is now tepid. There is very limited evidence of the force and feel of the full-blooded Biblical church that was born with the Reformation. Gospel strength has gradually ebbed away with the exception of a minority of its adherents in one or two conspicuous dioceses (e.g Sydney) and especially diligent and devoted Evangelical organizations (e.g. The Church Society). Much of what is generally termed evangelicalism is an amorphous assembly of non-Catholics and non-charismatics which shies from liberalism but without Scriptural depth or theological consistency. It is a lame, tame, "Bible as storybook and guide to good neighborliness" phenomenon that keeps its congregations cosy. Sin is not too serious. Salvation is cheap. Sermons should not be the least demanding, let alone painful at times to the conscience.

Anglicanism is passing through a time of childishness in the biblical sense of the great prophets of Israel. It is seriously disordered, willful, and enmeshed in folly. It does not defer to divine authority. It perpetrates continual self-harm through lack of maturity and wisdom. It is a spiritual disaster site and a region of religious wreckage when compared with its noble origins in the 16th century - a Biblical basis, an edifying and elegant liturgy, an orthodox Confession of Faith.

Anglicanism's godly tradition is virtually trashed. Its contemporary congregants have no idea of what they are missing and probably little appetite for it if ever introduced to it. Our generation has gone too far into a mode of modern Christian thought and practice that flatters and entertains and which bears little resemblance to the historic faith of the ages. It does not adequately reveal the God of sovereignty and majesty nor hold a mirror to the miserable condition of our race. The practice of contemporary Anglicanism is a mere playroom pastime where the perceived needs of children dominate consideration, and what is provided in response is deemed sufficient for those identified as "adults" - well, chronologically at least. Everyone now recognizes that there is a shortage of grownups in our western society.

To enter the average parish church is to exit with hunger pains for substantial spiritual sustenance. The church is feminized, the men are neutered, and the children have the upper hand. Our culture, silly beyond description, has castrated the community of faith and deprived it of its proper and worthy male qualities which are not meant to be aggressive and insensitive. What we have now in the church is competitiveness and resentment between the sexes when each can reasonably find sufficient scope for its servanthood and ministry without rivalry and animosity between them. Humility and sincerity is to characterize man and woman in devotion before the Lord. Professionalism and ambition is alien to Christian ministry.

Many of those who would quietly designate themselves as Reformed men seem afraid of their own Augustinian convictions and behave as if they almost wished these things were not true. Has God blundered in some of the truths he has so clearly revealed? Doctrines written across the pages of an open Bible are reckoned to be too strong for a "delicate public" - a public which at large doesn't hesitate to defy and deny God with brazenness and openly rebellious hearts. J.C. Ryle, who loved cricket and played like a champion, when writing of the champions of the gospel in the era of Great Awakening chose the equivalent number of a cricket team for the biographies he has bequeathed to us, and the lives and ministries of eleven eminent men of God are delineated for our encouragement. But in Anglicanism many men of private Calvinistic persuasion seem afraid to step up to the crease (a line marking the position of the bowler or batsman, Concise Oxford Dictionary) and bat with grit and determination, facing whatever is hurled at them (bumpers, spinners, and fast balls).

There is a possible explanation, one among many perhaps, for this sad reluctance to be as honest as the Bible in all that it affirms (faithfulness to which, of course, demands appropriate pastoral care and courtesy).

Charles Simeon was a great and admirable servant of God as a student and preacher of the Word. He endeavored to expound Scripture without straining the text in favor of any partisan view (Arminianism or Calvinism keenly in contention in his time) and attempted to tone down the pitch of acrimonious controversy. He saw both positions as extremes and affirmed that he could move quite happily from one theological pole to the other. "Today I am a high Calvinist, tomorrow a low Arminian . . . it is not one extreme that we are to go to, but both extremes." When it came to a matter of candid clarification Simeon was a convinced Augustinian but when it came to a discussion with John Wesley on the points of disagreement between Calvinists and Arminians Simeon contrived a plausible compromise, but only if his position outlined in several points is not carefully analyzed.

Simeon's conversation with his senior colleague in the gospel is summarized thus:

Sir, I understand that you are called an Arminian;; and I have been sometimes called a Calvinist; and therefore suppose we are to draw daggers. But before I consent to begin combat, with your permission I will ask you a few questions . . . . Pray, Sir, do you feel yourself a depraved creature, so depraved that you would never have thought of turning to God, if God had not first put it into your heart?" Wesley answered in the affirmative. "And do you utterly despair of recommending yourself to God by anything you can do; and look for salvation solely through the blood and righteousness of Christ" Wesley replies, "Yes, solely through Christ." Simeon, "But, Sir, supposing you were at first saved by Christ, are you not somehow or other to save yourself afterwards by your own works?" Wesley, "No, I must be saved by Christ from first to last." Simeon, Allowing, then, that you were first turned by the grace of God, are you not in some way or other to keep your self by your own power?" "No". . . . And is all your hope in the grace and mercy of God to preserve you unto his heavenly kingdom?" Yes, I have no hope but in him".

Simeon, "Then, Sir, with your leave I will put up my dagger again; for this is all my Calvinism; this is my election, my justification by faith, my final perseverance: it is in substance all that I hold, and as I hold it; and therefore, if you please, instead of searching out terms and phrases to be a ground of contention between us, we will cordially unite in those things wherein we agree." (Charles Simeon: Pastor of a Generation, Handley Moule, Christian Focus Publications, Ross-shire, Great Britain, 1997 - a valuable biography).

But there are silent and real reservations to Wesley's answers and from time to time he aired them. Synergism runs through his theology along with the theory of universal prevenient grace. Grace is distinguishing. Somewhere in Wesley's comprehension of the gospel there is the conviction, acknowledged or denied, that the disposition, self wrought within the sinner, makes the ultimate difference "unto salvation". Man, is in control, and that flatters and inflates human nature and even dares some to oppose the Lord suicidally. Some men may be heard to boast of their faith, and some evangelists do wring their hands lamentingly in pleading with sinners not to disappoint an impotent God who cannot effectively persuade them to receive the gospel and who wrings his hands in frustration also.

And Simeon should admit that there is much more to his Calvinism, which includes an unconditional election, faith as a divine donation, blood that actually and definitely redeems and does not simply make salvation merely possible, an imputed righteousness that is perpetually valid for those who receive it, and an infallible preservation of the redeemed soul. These emphases magnify the special grace of God and confer upon the believer a mighty consolation and a firm assurance.

Mixed up in this disappointing conference is the confusion between human ability (extinct) and human responsibility (abiding) in the matter of salvation. It is attained by grace alone and not the inclination and effort of man in the smallest degree. Simeon is authorized by Scripture to issue the gospel offer as much and as enticingly as he can. "Whosoever will may come" is the word of the Lord, but the truth of electing love is the believer's entitlement by divine grace. It must not be concealed or withheld from preaching, and the sovereignty of God is designed to awaken the proud to reverence for the Lord and the earnest seeking of him.

This seepage of Simeonism is probably accountable for much of the silencing of Calvinism, which in its fear of causing offense and being the target of castigation allows Arminianism to "call the shots" in the affairs of evangelicalism within Anglicanism. The irenic spirit of Simeon is wholly admirable and we ought all to maintain it, but it does not require concession to a variety of theology contrary to the Reformational Anglican creed to which all ordained men ought to subscribe.

With the plainness of Holy Scripture and the guidance of the Articles Anglicanism has the warrant and capability for the preaching of the realities of saving grace with profound pastoral skill, and the tenderness and wisdom of the Saviour.

The Rev. Roger Salter is an ordained Church of England minister where he had parishes in the dioceses of Bristol and Portsmouth before coming to Birmingham, Alabama to serve as Rector of St. Matthew's Anglican Church.

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