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The Anglican Commitment to Comprehensiveness - J.I.Packer

The Anglican Commitment to Comprehensiveness
A Kind of Noah's Ark?

By J. I. Packer
June 2010


Dear Joe,

Your question calls for more than I can put in a letter, so I have written this small book on it. Don't be embarrassed; Luther wrote a book on prayer specially for Peter his barber (a gem, incidentally), so why shouldn't I write a book on being an Anglican specially for you? If there' s sense in it others beside you will get the benefit, and if it turns out like Eccles ('I don't say much, but what I say - don't make sense') you won't be held responsible.

I know you're not yet sure whether to offer for ordination, and you mustn't think that by this grand gesture I'm trying to put pressure on you. If God wants you in the ordained ministry he'll put on all the pressure that's needed, and you'll find yourself having to say, in the words of the great Spike Milligan walking backwards for Christmas (remember?), 'it's the only thing for me.' But thinking chaps like you are needed in the Anglican ministry, and I don't want needless stumbling-blocks to lie in their way.

You asked me how an evangelical who takes seriously his stewardship of revealed truth can ever with a good conscience take office in the Church of England when it is such a doctrinal Noah's ark, parading a comprehensiveness under which, as it seems, literally anything goes. That's an important question, and a fair one, since I am in fact a clergyman, and you are by no means the only person to put it to me, and I'd like the world to have my answer.

Whether I take my stewardship of revealed truth seriously enough others must decide, but I can say this: For a generation now I have had close links with Free Church evangelicals who spared no effort to show me that as an Anglican I am in a false position. I think I know their arguments pretty well by now. Yet though Anglican doctrinal pluralism brings as much distress today as ever it did, I was never so sure that as an Anglican I'm where I should be, and where many others should be too. I want to share the lines of thought that brought me here. So please read on.



1. Anglican Comprehensiveness - Virtue or Vice?

This essay is a companion piece to the first of the Latimer Studies which I wrote in 1978, entitled The Evangelical Anglican Identity Problem.[1] There I discussed what evangelicals in the Church of England stand for; here I ask what the Church of England itself stands for. I do so as an evangelical, and since this word means different things to different people I shall first spell out what I mean by it, so that no one will misunderstand where I am coming from in what follows.

1.1. Evangelical Perspectives

Anglicans who call themselves evangelicals, like those who claim to be Anglican (Anglo-) Catholics, see themselves as holding in trust for the rest of the church a heritage of truth and insight, perceptions of reality and duty, and traditions of stockpiled wisdom and spiritual experience, which form part of the wealth laid up in Christ for all, but which, partly through unawareness of true notions and partly through prepossession by false ones, not all up to now have been able to grasp. In my earlier study I noted as chief among the truths of which evangelicals are trustees:

(1) the supremacy of Scripture as God-given instruction, a sufficient, self-interpreting guide in all matters of faith and action;

(2) the majesty of Jesus Christ our sin-bearing divine Saviour and glorified King, by faith in whom we are justified;

(3) the lordship of the Holy Spirit, giver of spiritual life by animating, assuring, empowering and transforming the saints;

(4) the necessity of conversion, not as a stereotyped experience but as a regenerate condition, a state of faith in Christ evidenced by repentance and practical godliness;

(5) the priority of evangelism in the church's agenda;

(6) the fellowship of believers (the faith-full) as the essence of the church's life.[2]

Evangelicals stress that faith, like charity, must begin at home, in the sense that convertedness is first to seek because unconverted folk can neither know God's forgiveness and favour nor serve him or others as they should. Immature evangellcals have sometimes settled for a euphoric, man-centred pietism, concerned only with possessing and spreading the peace and joy of 'knowing Christ as my personal Saviour' (sadly, these precious words are nowadays a cant phrase), and never appreciating God's revealed concern for truth and righteousness in church and community. Maturer evangelicals, however, have always recognized that though personal conversion is the starting-point Christians must learn a biblical God-centredness and seek after 'holiness to the Lord' in all departments of the church's worship, witness and work and in every activity and relationship of human life. Over the past four centuries in England this maturity has been most apparent when evangelicalism has been closest to its historical roots in Reformed (that is, Reformational, or, to use a word which would have distressed John Calvin, Calvinistic) theology.

'Evangelical' and 'Reformed' are not synonyms. Not all evangelicals, Anglican or other, would call themselves Reformed (some profess to be Lutheran, Wesleyan, Pentecostal or just nondescriptly biblicist); nor can all conservative Calvinists properly be called evangelicals (some are formalists in doctrine and devotion, some are institutionalists in pastoral care and strategy, and some are quietists wholly absorbed in monitoring the drama of God's life in their souls). But whenever evangelicalism is fuelled by teaching that reproduces the biblical theocentrism of Calvin's Institutes or the Anglican formularies or the later Westminster standards (drafted, be it said, mainly by Anglicans), all of which documents show the same balanced concern for personal faith, a pure church and a godly society, it manifests the mature breadth of which I am speaking.

At the turn of this century both Abraham Kuyper, architect of Reformed renewal in Holland, and G. K. Chesterton, the most potent Christian apologist in England (despite his sad misconception of Protestaatism), were both saying from opposite sides of the fence that in construing Christianity the ultimate choice lies between Calvinism and Catholicism. Leaving aside the questions, which a well-informed person might want to press, as to whether the Reformed humanism of Kuyper was not more truly catholic, in the sense of comprehensively Christian, than Chesterton's romantic mediaevalism, and whether the backward-looking Catholicism of Chesterton was not really more sectarian, in the sense of unbiblically exclusive, than Kuyper's forward-looking Protestantism, we may agree with them at once. The Roman (Catholic) and Reformed (Calvinistic) really are the only traditions of Christian thought that have range and resources sufficient to become full-scale world-and-life-views-philosophies of life, in the old rich sense of that phrase, seeing all reality, activity and community steadily and whole, because it is all being looked at in relation to God's cosmic goals and plans and to the eternity (the world to come) to which it is all working up. And only when evangelicalism comes under Reformed tutelage (for substance, even if not by that name) does it successfully transcend the limitations of pietistic individualism and show itself as a viewpoint of biblical breadth.

Now the evangelical tradition of faith and life in the Church of England has been mostly fed by Reformed theology, and has characteristically been marked by deep concern, variously expressed, for godliness in both church and community, as well as in individuals and 'keen' groups. Think, for illustration, of the Reformers, and the Church Puritans who followed them; of the Church-oriented evangelicalism fostered by Simeon, Wilberforce, the Clapham fraternity and later by J. C. Ryle; and of the unacknowledged yet decided return of many Anglican evangelicals in our time to their Reformed roots, a return which has led to the strong wish expressed at the Keele and Nottingham congresses, that evangelicalism might be effective in reshaping and renewing church and nation today. The sort of pietism which withdraws from all constructive links with the church and the world save those with other evangelicals should not, therefore, be seen as an evangelical Anglican norm, any more than mediaeval relic-worship should be thought of as a Roman Catholic norm. The fact that some within evangelical circles and many outside them treat such pietism as the evangelical norm is sad and stultifying. To think of what is eccentric as ordinary, or decadent as standard, is grievously to misunderstand.

Certainly, this has not been a good century for Anglican evangelicals. Influence has shrunk and pietistic individualism has prevailed, leading many to suppose that nothing about the Church of England matters save that it is still the best boat to fish from. Despite the recent Reformed resurgence noticed above, it is clear that very many earnest Anglicans still think about their church in this way, and other things about it never bother them. But this shrugging off of concern as to what appearance the Church presents to the watching world, and how it nurtures its adherents, and how far its ways glorify God, is not the authentic evangelical attitude, nor is it the standpoint from which I write the present essay.

1.2. Comprehensiveness - Unlimited?

Anglican apologists often claim that one excellence of the Church of England is its comprehensiveness: that is, the way it finds room on its broad bosom for all sorts of Christians to lie comfortably side by side, amicably debating non-essentials on the basis of their happy agreement about basics. This (so it is urged) is one sign of the Church's catholic spirit, in other words its purpose of embracing the whole of Christian truth and its unwillingness to be a sect outlawing from its fellowship folk whom Christ accepts, just because they verbalise the faith eccentrically or differ from others on minor issues of faith and order.

The formula sounds good. It is obviously right in principle that a body like the Church of England, a nationwide federation of many thousand congregations in full communion with each other and seeking to embrace as many English Christians as possible while commending mainstream Christianity to all, should be as wide and tolerant in its embraces as the Christian revelation allows. It is obviously right that its creed should be restricted to the minimum necessary, and that on other matters its members be left free, in John Wesley's happy phrase, to 'think, and let think'. Historically, Anglicans have for the most part followed the judicious Richard Hooker in grounding the unity of the catholic visible church in its profession of the Christian fundamentals, namely the articles of the Apostles' and Nicene Creeds as interpreted by the Bible whose faith they intend to express. Evangelicals as a body go with this, though they insist that the forgiveness of sins in the creeds must be expounded in terms of justification by faith, as Hooker himself did.[3] And if all Anglicans were at one on the fundamentals, the comprehensiveness which allows for (e.g.) different notions of Christ's eucharistic presence, or different estimates of the importance of the historic Episcopal succession, or different opinions on the circumstances of Christ's return, or opposing views on the ethics of abortion and the propriety of making women presbyters, while not, perhaps, perfectly comfortable to live with, would present no problem of principle, to evangelicals or anyone else.

Sadly, however, the present-day reality of Anglican comprehensiveness is not like that. It is both more complex and more painful. There are two reasons for this. One is that since biblical criticism, in the sense of systematic study of the origins, composition, literary character and purpose of the biblical books as human documents, established itself in the Protestant world a century ago, many Anglicans have ceased to view Bible doctrine as God's revealed truth, and no longer let biblical thoughts determine their thinking. Allowing Scripture great human authority as a primary witness to archetypal Christian experience, they deny it divine authority as instruction from heaven. So at every turn we find them distinguishing divine realities from New Testament ideas about them, and refusing to concede that they lose touch with the former by questioning the latter. But to those who believe that the Holy Spirit spoke by the prophets and their apostolic counterparts, making biblical testimony as truly God's utterance as were the words of the incarnate Son, and who take the fundamentals to be just what Scripture says they are, the claim to uphold those fundamentals while relativizing or recasting Scripture statements about them seems incoherent nonsense. Thus discussion of fundamentals falls into deep confusion, and the question whether there is essential agreement on what is essential to the essentials becomes-problematical to the last degree.

Then, second, Broad Church liberals and radicals, spiritual heirs of the Latitudinarians of earlier times, proceeding on the basis of the view of Scripture outlined above, claim unlimited freedom to reconceive the Christian fundamentals. So today, for instance, brilliant University teachers like Don Cupitt, and Professors Maurice Wiles, Dennis Nineham and the late Geoffrey Lampe (to look no further), are Unitarian rather than trinitarian in their thoughts about God; they, and others like J. A. T. Robinson, by their affirmations of deity in Christ effectively deny the deity of Christ; their claims about his continuing influence effectively deny his bodily resurrection; and they state the forgiveness of sins in terms which deny his vicarious sin-bearing.[4] Nor, if these ideas were scotched, would the liberal snake be killed, for liberal theology is a parasite which lives by challenging received views in the name of reason, and its death in one form regularly heralds its rebirth in another.

There is thus little prospect of any church which allows liberal theological method ever being free of what to evangelicals appears major heresy; and it is clear that the Church of England today, in common with world-wide Anglicanism, understands its commitment to reason as the third strand of its principle of authority, along with Scripture and tradition, as legitimizing liberal method. Hooker, who gave Anglicans this formula, would certainly protest that this way of understanding it destroys his meaning completely, but nothing can be done about that now; we have gone too far. So the comfortable old concept of churchmen who are one on basics agreeing to disagree on secondary matters appears today to be a pipe-dream no longer bearing any relation to what is-actually the case. The reality of Anglican comprehensiveness is quite different. It has become a matter of accepting theological bedfellows who may well have no more in common with you or with each other than the topics they discuss and the vocabulary they use for discussing them.

1.3. Withdrawal?

Seeing this, some have urged evangelicals in 'doctrinally mixed' churches to withdraw into a tighter fellowship where the pre-critical, pre-liberal view of Scripture is rigorously upheld and sceptical revisionism in theology is debarred. It has been said that failure to do this is as unprincipled as it is foolish. It is unprincipled, so the argument runs, because by staying in churches which tolerate heretics you become constructively guilty of their heresies, by your association with them; and it is foolish because you have not the least hope of cleaning up the theological Augean stables while liberals remain there. Withdrawal is the conscientious man's only option.

That the liberal theological method has come to stay in the Church of England is, as we saw, not open to doubt. That, for the present at least, it is the majority method among Anglican theologians is also clear. Though there is no reason to think that most Anglicans are liberals, the exposure given by the media to the provocatively unorthodox could easily give the impression that these men are on the intellectual growing edge of tomorrow's Anglican faith. Nor can this state of affairs be expected to change much in the foreseeable future; liberalism, which lives and can only live as a reaction against orthodoxy, will remain a cuckoo in the Anglican nest, and in each generation much theological energy will have to be invested in criticizing liberal criticisms of historic Christian belief. Accepting this is part of what is involved in being an Anglican evangelical today. All these, so far as man can foresee, are fixed points.

So, even if the separatist arguments are not thought cogent, the question presses: is the game worth the candle? Evangelical identity is trans-denominational, and Anglican evangelicals could find spiritual homes elsewhere if they had to: might they not be wise to do so, and wash their bands of the constant battle with the liberals, and invest their God-given mental energy elsewhere?

Half-way up the four flights of stairs leading to one of London's evangelical institutions there used to hang a card which said: 'Pause and Pray.' That is good advice too for folk faced with this specious summons to down tools and run. The genuine distress and frustration which evangelicals feel about the interminable theological incoherence of the Church of England gives the summons immediate appeal. But proverbial common sense tells us that though the grass the other side of the wall is always greener, we should look before we leap, lest we cut off our nose to spite our face and jump out of the frying-pan into the fire. Just as one cannot steer straight forward while looking back at what one is leaving, so one cannot trust reaction to induce right-mindedness. Even if not blind (as it often is), reaction is rarely far-sighted, and may lead to something worse than that from which it flees. 'Anywhere, provided it be forward' has been described as a philosophy for Gadarene swine, and 'anyhow, provided it be different' would be an axiom of anarchy. To see what to do about what one is against (in this case, a vicious doctrinal pluralism), one needs first to be clear what one is for. So our initial question must be: what sort of Church of England do evangelicals look for? Where do they think it should go, starting from where it is? What hopes and purposes have they for it? What policies do these purposes dictate? Here are the themes on which reflection should centre while separatist sirens sing their seductive song of flight from present troubles.

It will help us to think through these questions if for a moment we glance back at the Anglicanism of two evangelical pritriarchs of yesterday, whom many in the Church of England have taken as role-models, and still do: Charles Simeon and J. C. Ryle. Granted, the methodological comprehensiveness of the Church of England today is, as we have begun to see, a relatively new thing, which the official apologia for comprehensiveness neither envisages nor covers, and neither of these men had to face it. Yet both belonged to a Church of England in which their evangelicalism was very far from being dominant or popular, and in that, at least, they were in the same boat as we are. What did they hope and work for in the disorderly Church of England of their day, and what was their attitude towards those doctrinal shortcomings which they detected? Let us see.

1.4. Simeon and Ryle[5]

First, their profiles. Simeon (1759-1836), son of a wealthy lawyer, brother of a baronet who sat in Parliament and of one of the Bank of England's directors, was an Eton boy who came to faith in Christ as undergraduate at Kings College, Cambridge. Having graduated without examination and become a Fellow automatically, as Kingsmen did in those days, Simeon was ordained deacon at the age of 22. Three months later he asked his father to put his name forward to the Bishop of Ely for the vacant living of Holy Trinity, Cambridge, and amazingly he got it. There he stayed till his death 54 years later, developing a ministry as preacher, student chaplain, nurturer of ordinands, pastor and educator of clergy, missionary organiser (Church Missionary Society, British and Foreign Bible Society, Society from Promoting Christianity among the Jews), resource person in clerical appointments, and finally purchaser of patronage, which led Macaulay to write: 'his real sway in the church was far greater than that of any primate.'[6] It was his happiness to see, in the last 25 years of his life, many signs that his kind of evangelicalism was establishing itself in the English middle and upper classes, largely through men whom he trained and advised.

John Charles Ryle (1816-1900) was also an Eton boy. Converted at Oxford, where he also gained a First Class degree, he was ordained when his father, a Cheshire banker, went bankrupt. For 39 years he served as a country parson, becoming an acknowledged evangelical leader through his tracts, books and power of speech; then at 64, 'set in his ways and his thoughts, past his best,'[7] he was made first bishop of Liverpool, where for two decades he worked manfully setting up a diocese that lacked money, buildings and human resources all along. Whereas Simeon' s main ministry had been personal (for his 21-volume Home Homileticae, 2536 sermon outlines from Genesis to Revelation, was not equally influential), Ryle's chief influence was exerted through his pungent tracts and books, some of which are still in print today.[8]

The two Etonians make a fascinating contrast. Both were instinctive aristocrats, dignified and reserved to a degree, yet shrewd, energetic, articulate natural leaders, men of great personal force and pastoral wisdom, with views of Christianity and ministry that were virtually identical. Here, however, the resemblance ends. Simeon, the Old Apostle as they called him, a warm-hearted though somewhat fussy and choleric bachelor, was always the eighteenth-century gentleman, with the elegant geniality that wealth and an assured position in society easily confer. Ryle, the Protestant Bishop, a man of granite with the heart of a child as his successor described him, was a raw-boned, big-voiced, blunt-spoken Victorian, brisk and brusque, tough-minded to the point of truculence, whose natural combativeness shone out in all he said and did - in short, a natural outsider. Not very sociable by nature, and scarred by the trauma of the family bankruptcy and 20 years of near-poverty that followed, plus the pain of losing two wives (the second of whom was an invalid for ten years) before he was 45, most folk found him abrubt and aloof, easier to admire from a distance than to relax with at close quarters. Ryle had better brains, more learning, and power on paper which Simeon quite lacked; Simeon had poise, charm and a genius for friendship which Ryle quite lacked, though there are places where Ryle's devotional writing communicates a depth of compassion which, from the evidence available, Simeon could not match. Simeon was evidently a sunny person, Ryle rather more severe. But both were great men, and when Anglican vangelicals divide, as they do, over which they prefer they tell us more about themselves than about either of them.

Second, their principles. Here they were together all the way. Both were English churchmen who understood Christianity in terms of the official Anglican formularies of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Both saw real Christianity as based on the justification of sinners through grace by faith in the living Christ and his atoning death. Both applauded the Articles and Prayer Book for the model of doctrine and devotion which they provide. Both were moderate Calvinists, affirming election without speaking of reprobation and declaring universal as distinct from particular redemption. Both thought it good and right that the English national church should be established (Ryle wrote against disestablishment), and both regretted Dissent, though Ryle insisted that the Church was to blame for causing it. But as both understood preaching in terms of letting Scripture speak, and took its main message to be truths about the present relation of the living Triune God to sinners, and rang endless changes on these truths in their own preaching, so both were glad of Dissenters who preached the same message. The main concern of both was that Christ should be preached, never mind by whom.

Both saw the inherited Anglican system of endowed livings and paternalist patronage as providentially apt for furthering the gospel in England, especially in poor and ignorant communities, and as being fully justifiable on that basis; and both saw the main hindrance to the spread of the gospel in England as lying in failure to work the parochial system well enough. Simeon was up against non-residence and plurality, and clergy who were not 'serious' (an evangelical code-word in those days) about Prayer Book religion, who ridiculed those who were as 'enthusiasts' (i.e., fanatics), and who set forth ethics as the way to heaven. Ryle believed that Ritualistic crypto-Romanism, boiling down to trust in sacraments for salvation, and woolly Broad Church guesswork, boiling down to trust in sincerity for salvation, were establishing themselves as the preferred options of an increasing timber of clergy, and ousting the gospel of the formularies. Both men, however, interpreted their situation in terms, not of apostasy, but of lack. They had confidence in the power of the gospel, once let loose, to make its way against these basically jejune alternatives and drive them back, and they saw it as their task to let the gospel loose every way they could.

Both were hopeful as they faced the future. This is less plain in Ryle, who unlike Simeon did not see his cause clearly triumph, and unlike Simeon again had in his mind a streak of premillennial pessimism, leading him to warn on occasion of wholesale apostasy before Christ's coming. Ryle voiced many forebodings of how the Church of England would collapse if doctrinal drift and disintegration went further, and urged constantly that evangelical faith could not be preserved without a fight. Yet he expressed hope too. The following extract gives the basic attitude which he maintained throughout.

You live in days when our time-honoured Church is in a very perilous, distressing, and critical position. Her rowers have brought her into troubled waters. Her very existence is endangered by Papists, Infidels, and Liberationists [disestablishmentarians] without. Her life-blood is drained away by the behaviour of traitors, false friends, and timid officers within. Nevertheless, so long as the Church of England sticks firmly to the Bible, the Articles and the principles of the Protestant Reformation, so long I advise you strongly to stick to the Church. When the Articles are thrown overboard and the old flag is hauled down, then, and not till then, it will be time for you and me to launch the boats and quit the wreck. At present, let us stick to the old ship.

Why should we leave her now, like cowards, because she is in difficulties and the truth cannot be maintained within her pale without trouble? How can we better ourselves? To whom can we go? Where shall we find better prayers? In what communion shall we find so much good being done, in spite of the existence of much evil? No doubt there is much to sadden us; but there is not a single visible Church on earth at this day doing better. There is not a single communion where there are no clouds, and all is serene ... But for all that, there is much to gladden us, more Evangelical preaching than there ever was before in the land, more work done both at home and abroad. If old William Romaine, of St. Anne's, Blackfriars, who stood alone with some half-dozen others in London last century, had lived to see what our eyes see, he would have sharply rebuked our faint-heartedness and unthankfuiness. No. The battle of the Reformed Church of England is not yet lost, in spite of semi-popery and scepticism, whatever jealous onlookers without and melancholy grumblers within may please to say. As Napoleon said at four o'clock on the battlefield of Marengo, "there is yet time to win a victory." If the really loyal members of the Church will only stand by her boldly, and not look coolly at one another, and refuse to work the same fire engine, or man the same lifeboat - if they will not squabble and quarrel and "fall out by the way," the Church of England will live and not die, and be a blessing to our children's children. Then let us set our feet down firmly and stand fast .., man the pumps, and try to keep the good ship afloat. Let us work on, and fight on, and pray on, and stick to the Church of England.'[9]

In other words, the Church of England was worth preserving; the misbelief of the day need not be fatal; if evangelicals would fight together for the gospel in the Church, they would succeed in keeping it there.

So to, third, the programme to which Simeon and Ryle committed themselves. Both constantly sought to do three things to reduce the doctrinal, devotional and practical defects of the Church of England as they found it:

(1) To spread and defend the gospel by preaching, teaching and writing. (This was the hidden agenda of Horae llomileticae, as it was the explicit agenda of most of Ryle's written work.)

(2) To establish clergy and ordinands in evangelical truth. (Simeon did this more obviously through student ministry and clergy conferences; Ryle did it indirectly, by backing evangelical theological colleges.)

(3) To exert all possible influence to evangelical ends in the Church's wider life. (Simeon, living in an era when influence was chiefly a matter of whom one knew, cultivated dignitaries; Ryle urged against some of his peers that evangelicals should get stuck into the newly-born Church Congresses and Diocesan Conferences and the revived Convocations, and himself proposed reforming church courts, patronage and canon law, and transforming the Convocations into synodical government - all of which, incidentally, has been done in the past generation, rather more than hail a century after Ryle called for it.)

1.5. Past and Present

How would Simeon and Ryle react could they see the Church of England today?

They would certainly be delighted that the number of clergy and congregations adhering to their kind of evangelicalism now seems greater than at any time in either of their lives. Simeon saw evangelical influence in the Church of England budding, Ryle thought, probably rightly, that overall he was watching it wither; neither saw evangelicalism blossom as it has blossomed in England during the second half of this century.

Both men would also be thankful to observe the strength of evangelical institutions and societies, the quantity and quality of evangelical printed matter, and the fact that evangelical theological colleges now train forty per cent at least of each generation of ordinands. Simeon would rejoice to see how widely his standards of parish ministry had established themselves; Ryle would be glad that the Church, instead of disintegrating as he feared it would through hostility from without coupled with centrifugal disunity and anarchy within, holds resolutely together, and the sense of unity and trust between churchmen of different schools who keep within the bounds set by the Creeds and Articles has notably grown in recent years.

Both men would wonder, perhaps, whether the quality of Anglican evangelicals today matches that of their predecessors one and two centuries ago. They might sense that we are little people with small souls. They might feel doubt as to whether, in their passion to worship God in the low-key twentieth-century way and in today's 'cool' English, evangelicals are holding firmly enough to the Bible-based Augustinianism of the Prayer Book and cultivating, along with their stress on fellowship with the Father, the Son and the saints, that due humility before God which bespeaks a sight of God's holiness and a true sense of sin. Present-day hymns and choruses in particular might make them scratch their heads at this point. In their own day, both were hot against respectable, easygoing, shallow people who played superficially with Christianity, and they would certainly wish to check up on us here.

Ryle, who constantly urged churchmen to study the Articles as the Church's confession of faith, would be amazed and, I expect, distressed that modern Anglican evangelicals attend to them so little. He would find it hard to believe that the 78-page Nottingham Statement (the findings of NEAC 1977) was a serious evangelical document, when it pronounced on the gospel, the Bible and Roman Catholicism, among other matters, without referring to the Articles once. But I think he would be glad to find that both the aggressions of Tridentine Roman Catholicism in England and popular patriotic reaction against it ('no popery.') - a scaremongering reaction with which Ryle himself largely identified, and at the time with reason - were things of the past. A realist in his own day, Ryle would appreciate that though the doctrinal gulf between Roman Catholicism and Protestant evangelicalism remains, the milieu in which to survey and debate it has changed dramatically since Vatican II, and for the better.[10] It is a poor tribute to Ryle' s intelligence to suppose, as some seem to do, that he could not have allowed that a new situation has come to exist, nor understood it, nor welcomed and adjusted to it.

But what of Anglican comprehensiveness? Probably at first sight the range of beliefs and opinions tolerated among today's clergy, and the depth of indifference as to whether those who hold office as the Church's teachers believe one thing or another, would stagger both men. Simeon, who put on record his hope that Horae Hornileticae would tend 'to weaken at least, if not eradicate, the disputes about Calvinism and Arminianism; and thus to recommend ... the unhampered liberality of the Church of England,'[11] died before the attempts of Tractarians and Liberals in Oxford to recover 'catholic' teaching and map out an up-to-date undogmatic intellectualism respectively had made any significant impact. Apart from the Calvinistic issue, Simeon never had to engage directly with any theology different from his own save the natural man's heresy that we can be moral enough to be saved without faith in Christ; it is hard to envisage how he would have handled denials of the Trinity and Incarnation. Ryle had controverted the Romanizing distinctives of Ritualist theology and also the vague openness, optimistic, unspecific and clear only in being anti traditional, which came to mark Broad Church theorizing; he had argued against the idea that the Church of England had best become 'a kind of Noah's ark, within which every kind of opinion and creed shall dwell safe and undisturbed, and the only terms of communion shall be willingness to come inside and let your neighbour alone',[12] and had expounded his conviction that the wise bounds of Anglican comprehensiveness are those which are actually set by the Articles, Creeds and Prayer Book as understood in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. 'Let us be as broad as the Articles and Creeds, but not one inch broader,' he had written. 'If any one tries to persuade me that I ought to smile and look on complacently, with folded arms, while beneficed or licensed clergymen teach Deism, Socinianism or Romanism, I must tell him quite plainly that I cannot and will not do it ... I love my own Church too well to tolerate either scepticism on the one hand or Romanism on the other, and I think I am only doing my duty to my ordination vows in trying to "drive both away".'[13] Were he here today, to see Wiles' neo-Deism, Lampe's neo-Socinianism and the variety of faiths disclosed in the 1976 Doctrine Commission report Christian Believing, he would certainly judge the enlarged comprehensiveness which finds room for all this to be, in Sellar-and-Yeatmanese, a Bad Thing.

But what would they tell us to do about it? Ryle had seen heresy trials backfire (the acquittal in 1864 of Williams and Wilson, two contributors to Essays and Reviews, secured to English clergymen a legal right to treat parts of Scripture as unhistorical); he had learned from the Bell Cox prosecution in his own diocese (1886-7) how little you gain, and what goodwill you lose, by making martyrs of men who, however misled, are able, honest, hardworking and respected; he would be no more likely to recommend judicial proceedings than secession. What both he and Simeon could be expected to say, from what we know of them, is rather this:

(1) We should remember that the defined faith, the historical heritage and the calling, evangelistic pastoral and prophetic, of the English national church remain what they were, despite the incursion of tolerated errors;

(2) We should realise that the 'guilt by association' argument touches no one who explicitly dissociates himself from the errors concerned;

(3) We should remind ourselves that by leaving the Church of England in disgust at its doctrinal disorders we should stand to lose more than we gained;

(4) We should regard these errors, which are all well-meant efforts to restate the faith for today, in terms of deficiency - failure, that is, for whatever reason, to affirm the full gospel - and devote energy to filling in what they omit or refuse to say;

(5) We should recognize that the best way to serve a church infected by error is to refute the error cogently in public discussion and debate, as Paul refuted the Galatian and Colossian errors, and Athanasius the Arian error, and Augustine the Pelagian error, and Luther Erasmus' semi-Pelagianisni, and J. B. Lightfoot the errors of Supernatural Religion, and Eric Mascall the errors of Robinson's Honest to God and van Buren's The Secular Meaning of the Gospel.

(6) We should resolve to pray for champions in scholarly debate who will be able to do this job effectively on the appropriate scale, and meantime say our own piece in public against the errors in question as clearly as we can; otherwise we shall find in ourselves an unquiet conscience, and an ungodly desire to flee the Church of England, not because of the errors it tolerates, but only because of our own evading of the call to speak for God against them (as Jonah found himself wanting to flee from the presence of the Lord whose word he had refused to speak).

Whether or not I am right to put these words into the mouths of Simeon and Ryle, they are certainly the first things I want to say as we come now to grips with the over-tolerant comprehensiveness which appears as one of the leading vices of the present-day Church of England.

Table of Contents

2. Anglican Comprehensiveness - A Likely Story?

ONE ingredient in today's Anglicanism - by which I mean the thought and practice of the Church of England with its worldwide daughters - is, as we saw, its claim to be comprehensive in a way that other traditions are not, and its confidence that this comprehensiveness is a fine thing. So far I have written as if it were just a matter of unlimited tolerance, sometimes of the intolerable, which would suggest that it is really less a glory than a shame. It certainly looks so from outside, and sometimes from inside too. Many Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox and non-Anglican evangelicals have thought it irresponsible and scandalous, and made no bones of saying so, and some of my own anger and misery at my church's complacent doctrinal disarray will have come through to my readers already. But there is, of course, at least in theory, more to comprehensiveness than this; though folk find it notoriously hard to get hold of just what.

Why is that? Because since the middle of the last century comprehensiveness has been paraded as an Anglican excellence from at least four distinct points of view, each observing it as a phenomenon and justifying it as a policy in a different way. When this fourfoldness is not discerned and consensus accounts of comprehensiveness are attempted, the results are so cloudy, unfocused and ambivalent that one can no more make sense of them than one can weave mist or sculpt custard. While it was to be expected that Anglican comprehensiveness would comprehend different ideas of itself, the effect, here as in other areas of plural Anglican thinking, is to induce a degree of theological glossolalia which Eeyore would have labelled a Confused Noise, and which is as maddening and bewildering to observers as it is embarrassing and frustrating to those whose own utterances are part of it. To make sense of this situation we have to separate out the four positions, locate them in the flow of Anglican history, show what distinct benefit each supposes itself to bring, and evaluate them on their separate merits. That is this chapter's task.

2.1. Inclusiveness

First, both historically and logically, comes the traditional understanding of comprehensiveness in terms of calculated inclusion. Here, comprehensiveness means a deliberate policy of so ordering the Church that it can be a spiritual home for all 'mere Christians' who do not insist on adding to the creed mediaeval and post-mediaeval novelties (papal claims, the Mass-sacrifice, etc.) or taking from it any of the biblical fundamentals which it contains.

Comprehensiveness in this sense was the aim of the Elizabethan settlement, which sought a church structure that might embrace the whole nation. The settlement took the form of a broad-based Protestant traditionalism circumscribed by the Articles and Prayer Book (two witnesses to a biblical fulness of faith and worship), the royal supremacy (the sign that the Church was national and established), and the historic episcopate (marking continuity in space and time with the church of earlier days). Being Reformational as against Papal and Anabaptist and on the eucharistic presence Reformed as against Roman Catholic and Lutheran (Article 28), the settlement could claim to embody the essence of New Testament and mainstream patristic Christianity; thus it displayed true catholicity of substance. The doctrine of the Articles was put forward as a sufficient minimum, leaving a great deal undefined, and no terms of lay communion were imposed other than de facto acceptance of the established order; thus a truly catholic inclusiveness was achieved as well.

Archbishop Parker, the first Elizabethan bishop, spoke of the settlement in terms of 'golden mediocrity' (aurea mediocritas 'a golden mean' is what we should say). With this may be bracketed the familiar idea of Anglicanism as a 'middle way' (via media). What these phrases point to is Anglican unwillingness to shape the Church in a way that either needlessly cuts loose from the past or needlessly cuts out Christians who would be part of it in the present. The via media was never, as is sometimes suggested, a tight-rope walk between Rome and the Reformation, nor between Romanism and Anabaptistry, but a pastorally-minded balancing of the claims of traditional faith and practice against the need to change for edification. Its spirit comes out in the opening sentence of the Preface to the 1662 Prayer Book: 'It hath been the wisdom of the Church of England, ever since the first compiling of her Publick Liturgy; to keep the mean between two extremes, of too much stiffness in refusing, and of too much easiness in admitting any variation from it.' The Cranmerian Prayer Book in its 1559 and 1662 revisions was in fact for centuries the chief instrument of comprehensiveness. Following time-honoured forms within a Reformed-Augustinian doctrinal frame, it was phrased with such breadth and resonance that it could delight a wide range of theological and liturgical palates. Long before the age of fish and chips the Book of Common Prayer was the Great British Invention, nurturing all sorts and conditions of Englishmen and holding the Church together with remarkable effectiveness.

The benefits sought through this policy of circumscribed inclusiveness were two: catholicity for the Church and unity, religious political and social, for the nation. Until the nineteenth century the policy seemed on the whole to be succeeding, despite the lapses of leadership which squeezed out the Puritans and Wesley's people in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries respectively. But when Tractarians started to accuse the Church of defective catholicity because of what it jettisoned at the Reformation, and Newman to argue that for doctrine to remain the same it must constantly develop and change often, and liberals to deny that the Bible should be read as if God were its primary author, then not only Anglican unity but also the theological basis of the comprehensiveness policy itself were irrevocably undermined. For the policy rested on agreed acceptance of what the Bible, Creeds and Articles contain as normative revelation, or at least as catholic theologoumena that must not be spoken against. It expressed doctrinal modesty but not doctrinal indifferentism. Its demands and restrictions in matters of belief and behaviour were no less categorical for being minimal. But once substantial bodies of Anglican theological opinion began to question these demands on grounds of catholicity and truth, some wanting to augment and others to reduce what was common ground before, agreement that the Anglican set-up secured genuine catholicity became a thing of the past, and the Church changed overnight from a community unitedly proclaiming an achieved catholicty as the basis of its fellowship into one unitedly seeking such a basis but divided as to what, if anything, needed to be done to secure it. So for more than a century the Church has been a cockpit of debate between representatives of differently conceived catholicities trying to knock each other down and if possible out, or to elbow each other aside, or to find ways of taking into themselves the apparently opposed principles of the other views; and the debate continues.

In 1957 Alec Vidler wrote:

In these latter days the conception of Anglican comprehensiveness has been taken to mean that it is the glory of the Church of England to hold together in juxtaposition as many varieties of Christian faith and practice as are willing to agree to differ, so that the Church is regarded as a sort of league of religions. I have nothing to say for such an unprincipled syncretism ... the principle of comprehension is that a church ought to hold the fundamentals of the faith and at the same time allow for differences of opinion and of interpretation in secondary matters, especially rites and ceremonies. It is this principle that excluded .., those who believed too little, for instance any who did not accept the Creeds, as well as those who believed too much, for instance those who held that submission to the Bishop of Rome is necessary to salvation, or that Holy Scripture requires a Presbyterian form of church government and permits no other. Within these limits, which were secured by a uniform liturgy and by Articles of Religion which purported to be positive where Scripture was positive and reticent where it was not, it allowed for the maximum of flexibility and variety.[14]

Good words, and historically correct; but too many Anglicans have moved beyond this position for it to stand as an account of what Anglican comprehensiveness means today.

2.2. Integration

Second comes F. D. Maurice's very influential reinterpretation of comprehensiveness as integrative practice - that is, the synthesizing in action of apparent theological opposites. Maurice (1805-72), an ex-Unitarian for whom the living Trinity was the key to everything, was both a speckled bird and a stormy petrel, a distinguished, original and isolated figure in the Church of England whose influence, gone as it seemed long before his death, has remarkably revived during the past half-century.[15] He lived when Anglican party strife was at its height, and his highly individual plea for a non-party understanding of the Church of England fell on deaf ears. Today it chimes in with what many wish to hear, so we should not perhaps be surprised when Maurice is hailed as a prophet for our time.

Maurice held that the God who bestows national characteristics appoints distinct destinies for various national churches, and that part of the Church of England's special calling is to synthesize in its ordered life of worship and ministry all the principles separately maintained as theoretical opposites by its three warring parties, evangelical, Tractarian and Broad Church. As he saw it, each party contends for a positive principle, to which it adds antithetical, negative, restrictive and sectarian notions in order to form an exclusive system of thought (Maurice detested systems). Thus, evangelicals contend for salvation in Christ and muddy it with Calvinism, Tractarians contend for the God-givenness of the church and muddy their point with sacramentalist theory, and Broad Churchmen contend for freedom from bondage to intellectual systems of yesterday and link this with pleas to abolish the Articles and Prayer Book. But as Maurice saw it, all three positive principles were embodied already in the Church of England, with its creeds, sacraments, liturgy and ordained ministry, and the rest of each position could be safely dismissed as mistaken.

Maurice's contention at this point was that the union of the Triune God with mankind and the dominion of Christ over his church, together with the institutional means by which this union and dominion are furthered, are more basic to Christianity than any theological formulations. In one sense, of course they are, for things talked about are always basic to talk about them; but Maurice was meaning that the church is primarily institutional and only secondarily confessional, and that is much more disputable. His approving comment on the English Reformation, which Stephen Sykes quotes, shows his attitude: 'Here the idea of the Church as a Spiritual Polity ruled over by Christ, and consisting of all baptized persons, did, owing to various providential circumstances, supersede the notion of the Church, as a sect, maintaining certain options; or to speak more correctly, the dogmatical side of Christianity was here felt to be its accessory and subordinate side, and the ordinances, which were the manifestation of it as the law of our social and practical life, were considered its principal side. '[16]

Sykes judges that Maurice's view of Anglicanism has been 'theologically disastrous.' 'It must be said bluntly,' he explains, 'that it has served as an open invitation to intellectual laziness and self-deception ... the failure to be frank about the issues between the parties in the Church of England has led to an ultimately illusory self-projection as a church without any specific doctrinal or confessional position.'[17] If ever we wondered whence came the facile idea, often met, that the Church of England is a liturgical rather than a confessional church, now we know.

It is hard to dissent from Sykes' verdict, and no less hard to accept Maurice's view of the Church of England. For (1) in order to show how in Anglican practice the three party positions are complementary Maurice is forced high-handedly to redefine them in ways which neither evangelicals nor anglo-catholics can own. (2) Maurice's view implies that the crusading Anglicanism of a Simeon-or Ryle-type evangelical, who wants to see the whole Church of England leavened with the gospel, is less authentically Anglican than that of a professedly anti-party institutionalist like himself. (3) Since Maurice too was a theological crusader, advocating an account of universal redemption which neither evangelicals nor anglo-catholics could accept, and basing his institutionalism largely on it, he should really be seen as a one-man party, unlike others in having private theological reasons for not wanting to change the Church's constitution, but possessing no better claim to be a mainstream Anglican than anyone else. (4) To suggest that in the English Reformation as a whole (as distinct from the reign of Henry VIII, which only saw its beginning) the issue of theological truth ('the dogmatical side of Christianity') was not primary is to part company with all exponents of what happened for the first hundred years after the event, not to mention most since. Granted, the Reformers sought a reformed catholicism, not a new start; granted too, no fully interlocked Anglican system like that of the Tridentine decrees or the seventeenth-century Westminster Confession was ever spelt out; nonetheless, what the Articles defined was set forth categorically and confessionally, to be the doctrinal standard for interpreting Anglican liturgy, and it is idle to say it was not. 'We have all been taught' wrote Dr. Amand de Mendieta, 'that the English Prayer Book (1662) and the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion were deliberately so phrased that Catholics and Protestants alike could interpret them in their own way.'[18] Maybe we have, and maybe Maurice inspired much of the wishful thinking behind the statement; but of the Articles at any rate it is simply not true, and on this stubborn fact views of Anglicanism like Maurice's founder.

In sum: Maurice construed Anglican comprehensiveness as a genuine uniting of seeming opposites. He understood it as essentially a holding together, in a common frame of ministry and worship, of three types of folk who at the level of practical principle, that is, of faith and life as distinct from theology, were not basically disagreed, though they thought they were. Maurice believed he could see that their deepest contentions were complementary rather than contradictory. But this belief had in it less of prophetic insight than of theological oversight, for faith and theology cannot be thus separated. The Christ to whom each man's faith is a response is the Christ of the kerygma he believes, and to the extent that their understandings of the gospel vary different Christians serve different Christs, or at least differently conceived Christs. Had Maurice reflected on how the kerygmas of the three parties differed from each other, not to mention his own, he would surely have seen that his supposition of basic complementarity and harmony was superficial - though it has to be said that the decisiveness of differences of belief when held by users of the same liturgy is something which institutionalists both before and since Maurice have always found hard to appreciate. The final verdict on Maurice's vision of the Church of England must be that it was one of history's pleasanter pipe dreams. Would that it were so. But it was not so in Maurice's day, and it is not so now.

2.3. Tension

Third in order comes the semi-official twentieth-century understanding of comprehensiveness as a state of inner tension, indeed frank disunity on some matters, which the Anglican Communion is providentially called to sustain because, first, out of it will some day emerge a richer wholeness (catholicity) than the Christian world yet knows and because, second, it qualifies the Anglican communion to act as a 'bridge church' bringing into unity with itself bodies which cannot at present find unity with each other. Inner incoherence is the price Anglicanism pays for the privilege of fulfilling its unique vocation in reintegrating Christ's divided church.

Sometimes this view is presented as an extension of Maurice's, and historically it may have developed in that way, but theologically it is a different thing altogether. Maurice looked back to Christ's founding of the church as his kingdom, and sought a way of harmony between warring Anglican groups by appeal to historically given institutions of the kingdom - sacraments, creeds, worship, ministry. This third view looks forward, anticipates new developments and states of things, and finds the meaning of present conflict in future prospects. Let me illustrate. Here, first, is Amand de Mendieta unveiling his vision for the church which he left the Roman communion to join.

I am convinced that the historic mission or destiny of the Church of England, and, on a wider scale, the destiny of the world-wide Anglican Communion, is to make a theological and also a practical synthesis of Catholicism and Protestantism. Up to the present, we may say, the Church of England has too often been content with a more or less tolerant co-existence, a mere junta-position (sic) of different ideas, points of view, theologies, and practices, having no higher ambition than to keep a kind of precarious peace or rather truce, by letting sleeping dogs lie. But, to that extent, this so-called 'comprehensive' Church of England has failed to rise to the height of its historic and providential vocation. Our Church must bestir itself and become a genuine dialectical Church ... a dialectical Church is committed to the view that all these views or particular theologies (Anglo-Catholic, Evangelical, Liberal) must all be transcended in a higher synthesis.[19]

And here is the Church Unity Committee of the 1948 Lambeth Conference reflecting on the tensions set up in reunion discussions with non-episcopal churches by the coexistence of different Anglican views of episcopacy.

We recognise the inconveniences caused by these tensions, but we acknowledge them to be part of the will of God for us, since we believe it is only through a comprehensiveness which makes it possible to hold together in the Anglican Communion understandings of truth which are held in separation in other Churches, that the Anglican Communion is able to reach out in different directions and so fulfil its special vocation as one of God's instruments for the restoration of the visible unity of His whole Church. If at the present time one view were to prevail to the exclusion of all others, we should be delivered from our tensions, but only at the price of missing our opportunity and our vocation.[20]

It would be hazardous to speak either for or against this noble and hopeful vision, and I shall limit my comments to a review of some relevant facts.

First, it is a fact, and a happy one, that within the past thirty years the previously felt convictional and kerygmatic gap between the more conservative evangelicals and the more conservative anglo-catholics has shrunk.[21] On such matters as biblical authority, justification, the efficacy of baptism towards salvation, and the balance of preaching and eucharist in worship, there appears a convergence, which the charismatic, liturgical and evangelistic thrusts of our time continually help along. Today's evangelicals see that tradition has value as an aid to understanding Scripture and a safeguard against bondage to present-day cultural prejudice. Today's anglo-catholics see that tradition, which purports to embody and express biblical faith, must be judged by those very Scriptures which it interprets and applies. Most anglo-catholics allow that those who took evangelicals' sola fide to mean that justification is by feeling justified and sanctification is unreal or unimportant, misheard. Most evangelicals perceive that the faith which catholics inculcate looks to the Christ whose salvation the sacraments display, and not to the sacraments without the Saviour. Evangelicals nowadays carry conviction when they profess concern for the universal visible church even though most of them still use the invisible-visible distinction to express their mind on the church's nature. Catholics nowadays have largely ceased to speak as if the church's existence depends on the prior and independent reality of the ordained ministry, even though they still go beyond evangelicals in their valuation of the historic episcopal succession. (The thought of the historic episcopate as a sign of the space-time continuity of Christ's ministry from heaven to his people has been found illuminating and unifying in some quarters.) Catholics have help evangelicals to see Christianity as the baptismal life; evangelicals have helped catholics to see it as a life of joyful assurance and expectant prayer. These are some of the more obvious points of convergence. How far the two bodies of opinion have really changed, and how far they are just hearing each other better, is a question on which views may vary, but that need not concern us. Somehow or other, convergence has come about, and for this we should he thankful.

But it is also a fact that in recent years an enormous gap has opened up between evangelicals and catholics on one side and, on the other, those liberals, heirs of the old Broad Churchmen, who since 1963, the year of Honest to God, have been called radicals - 'rads' against 'trads', or 'questers against 'resters'. The Bultmannite hermeneutic, which treats New Testament narrative and theology as so much culture-determined mythology, celebrating and evoking the ineffable impact of God upon us while telling us nothing of a divine-human redeemer at all, has bred a worldwide crop of Christian reconstructionists, all starting from a non-incarnational view of Jesus, all working with a unitarian idea of God seasoned with more or less of process-theology, all claiming that modern secular knowledge makes their type of view the only one possible, and all vigorously offsetting themselves from the categories and content of traditional belief. Many Anglicans, leading scholars among them, are in this camp. But the versions of Christian belief which the reconstructionists produce strike evangelicals and catholics as forms of unbelief, or at least of intellectual besetting sin,[22] and in relation to the fashion of thought that has produced them - which, please God, will pass, as fashions do - de Mendieta' s 'higher synthesis' is out of sight.

Finally, it must be said that events since 1948 have not given any obvious colour to the notion of Anglicanism's providentially appointed 'bridge' role. At home the Anglican-Methodist unity scheme has failed, partly because of its problematical Service of Reconciliation which maintained the rule, allegedly necessary to Anglican comprehensiveness, that non-episcopal clergy must receive the form of episcopal orders, and the subsequent multi-church discussions that produced the Ten Propositions do not seem to have been notably enlivened by Anglican magic. Overseas union schemes involving Anglicans have also collapsed or been put into store (New Zealand, USA, Canada, and several in Africa). In the world ecumenical movement Anglican leadership is a thing of the past. Pan-Anglican groups have talked to Lutheran, Roman Catholic and Orthodox representatives, and come under suspicion of saying different and incompatible things to different churches. If the confidence of the 1948 Lambeth Conference about the Anglican calling rested in any measure on the Anglican track record of significant ecumenical initiatives during the preceding half-century, the past thirty years must be said to have left the idea less credible than it was before. Whether the future will vindicate it remains to be seen; meantime, however, our right to invoke it in order to make current doctrinal cleavages easier to bear must be considered doubtful.

2.4. Relativism

The fourth and most recent way of understanding Anglican comprehensiveness is in terms of the belief, characteristic of the liberal tradition, that theological relativism is inescapable, and to make explicit provision for it is wise and healthy. No formulations of faith (it is urged) have finality; treat them as sacrosanct, and the church stagnates; but let reason, informed by contemporary culture, revise and reshape them, and the church will both appear relevant and be found enriched. Anglicanism, honouring reason in theology, has always instinctively made room for those who in the cause of truth and relevance have felt bound to challenge accepted formulations, and this comprehensiveness, whereby the Church in effect holds the ring for debate between advocates of the old and the new, is one main secret of Anglican resilience and vitality. So at least it is said.

To see what this viewpoint implies, we must be clear on some facts on which clarity is too often lacking.

First, the basis of all forms of this position is the hypothesis that no universally right way of thinking about God is given in Christianity. Evangelicals and anglo-catholics characteristically hold that there is a universally right way, given to us in the teaching and trains of thought found in the Bible. Catholics ordinarily make a point of adding that patristic tradition and conciliar definitions have authority as a guide to interpretation, setting limits within which all subsequent attempts to develop biblical thinking should stay. But for a century and a half those known as liberals, modernists and radicals have found this incredible. Unable to accept what might be called a Chalcedonian view of Scripture (i.e. that it is fully human as well as fully divine, and fully divine as well as fully human), they have doubted both the reality of the Chalcedonian Christ to whom the New Testament witnesses and the propriety of reading Scripture as more than a rag-bag of traditions, intuitions, fancies and mythology whereby good men celebrated and shared their sense of being in touch with God - a contact occasioned for New Testament writers by a uniquely godly man named Jesus. (This, of course, is how the sceptical conventions of biblical criticism, as practiced in the schools for over a century, would lead one to read Scripture were there not cogent reasons for taking higher ground.) That prophets and apostles no less than creeds and churches can all be wrong on questions of reality and truth, is plank one in the liberal platform. Scripture and the Christian literary heritage are certainly stimulating, inspiring and effective in communicating God, but that does not make them true. So the constant endeavour of the liberal fraternity from the start has been to go behind and beyond biblical witness to reformulate the faith in terms which to them, as modern men, seem truer, clearer and less inadequate (whether evolutionist, idealist, panentheist, deist, existentialist, Marxist; sociological, psychological, syncretistic; or whatever).

In this they break both with the Latitudinarians of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, who saw human orthodoxies as mere logic-chopping but the Bible as infallible truth, and with all who have upheld the idea of an agreed core of fundamentals. Sykes notes how Gore, the pioneer liberal catholic, met Anglican modernism with the demand that all articles of the creed be treated as fundamentals, including Jesus' virgin birth and resurrection, both of which (said Gore) historical enquiry confirms. 'But' comments Sykes 'the question he did not tackle satisfactorily was whether a Church could demand that all its clergy adopt the same conclusions on historical matters. In view of the very large quantity and weight of dissentient voices in Gore's own day and since, it would be a little absurd to claim that Gore's position on this matter was in any sense characteristically Anglican.'[23] Certainly, for today's liberals there are no fixed fundamentals; everything, not excluding the doctrine of God - indeed, some say, that first - is regarded as in principle open to review and change.

Second, the liberal presence guarantees genuine contradiction of views. Sykes rightly says that it is a presence rather than a party; liberals have no united platform or policy, for they hold in common only the negations noted in the last two paragraphs, plus the sifting, reshaping methodology which these negations entail. They agree only in what they are against; beyond this it is every man for himself. 'It is a very obvious fact that modern radicals in the Church of England neither form a cohesive group nor identify themselves with the earlier modernist movement.'[24] Sykes blames Maurice for leading Anglicans to think of liberals as a party in the Church parallel to the other two. He notes that 'a "liberal" theological proposal is always in the form of a challenge to an established authority, and thus necessarily implies a dispute about the appropriate norms or criteria for any theology whatsoever.' He notes too that 'it is impossible to be merely a "liberal" in theology one's theology ... will be liberal in as much as it is a modification of an already existing type' - liberal catholic, liberal evangelical, or even liberal latitudinarian.[25] And he rightly stresses that any church in which liberals do their thing, querying the traditional and jettisoning the conventional, will have to endure real divergences of belief as some negate what others affirm and affirm what others cannot but negate. As he observes, 'Maurice's theory of comprehensiveness is utterly inadequate to account for this situation, and to persist in using it is a dangerous form of ecclesiastical self-deception.'[26]

Third, the liberal method has gained acceptance in Anglicanism, as in most other large Protestant churches. When in 1862 two of the authors of Essays and Reviews were tried for heresy, most of the novelties they affirmed were held not to be contrary to the doctrine of the Church of England. When in 1921 Gore urged that modernists be disciplined for sitting loose to the creed, the response of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Randall Davidson, was to set up a commission to report on the state of doctrine in the Church of England, and its report, by acknowledging the liberals' contribution to the thought-life of the Church, was, says Sykes, an 'unambiguous victory' for them.[27] The 1976 Doctrine Commission report, Christian Believing, distinguishes four attitudes of Anglicans to the creeds which they recite in worship. Some embrace them as norms, 'classical crystallizations of biblical faith'. Some recite them, despite reservations about their content, as a way of professing solidarity with the historic church. Some 'can neither affirm nor deny the creeds, because they look to the present rather than to the past to express their faith, and attach most importance to fresh understandings of that continuing Christian enterprise which has its origin in Jesus.' Some feel the fallibility of creeds and cannot in principle regard them as expressing their loyalty to Jesus and the Creator, so feel uninvolved with them. The first attitude is characteristic of evangelicals and catholics, the other three of liberals. Coexistence is painful, but 'the tension must be endured,' says the report; the church gains more from responsible debate between those who hold these points of view than it could gain by ruling any of them out.[28] Clearly liberalism has come to stay.

Fourth, all forms of liberalism are unstable. Being developed in each case by taking some secular fashion of thought as the fixed point (evolutionary optimism, historical scepticism, Marxist sociology, or whatever), and remodelling the Christian tradition to fit it, they are all doomed to die as soon as the fashion changes, according to Dean Inge' s true saying that he who marries the spirit of the age today will be a widower tomorrow. It is not always realised that the history of the past century and a half is littered with the wreckage of dead liberallsms. Though liberalism as an attitude of mind (going back at least to the Renaissance, if not indeed to the temptation of Eve) has persisted, and persists still, particular liberalisms have so far been relatively short-lived, and can be expected to continue so. Some liberals cheerfully acknowledge this and never treat their current opinions as more than provisional, anticipating that they may think differently next week. Others clearly cannot bear this prospect, and respond to factors which undermine their present opinions in the manner of King Canute forbidding the tide to come in; but the former group are more clear-headed. They measure the health of theology by its fertility in producing new options alternative to old ones, and value Anglican doctrinal tolerance (which they equate with comprehensiveness) because it removes all restraints on innovation.

Anglicans with a juster idea of what is given in Christianity see the matter rather differently. They judge of the health of theology by such criteria as fidelity to Scripture and in particular to the truths of incarnation and mediation, and they find the endless shifts of the liberal kaleidoscope reminding them Irresistibly of the folk whom the New Testament describes as always learning and never able to come to a knowledge of the truth (2 Tim. 3:7). Only by an agnostic judgment of charity can they treat exponents of non-incarnational Christianity as Christians, and they see all such doctrine as weakening the church and threatening men's spiritual welfare. Though thankful that no particular liberalism can hope to last, their hearts still cry, 'Lord, how long?'

2.5. Anglicans Assorted

From the foregoing survey we can now see precisely what Anglican comprehensiveness amounts to in the year of grace 1981. We perceive that, though all agree that catholicity requires as wide a comprehensiveness as the Christian revelation will allow, there is no common mind on how the current breadth of doctrinal toleration should be regarded.

Some still define Anglicanism in terms of the fundamentals set forth in the creeds and Articles, and challenge the propriety of clergy who sit loose to these ministering in the Church of England. Thus, for example, in 1977 the Church of England Evangelical Council declared:

If, then, a time comes when a clergyman can no longer conscientiously teach something central to his church's doctrine (such as the personal deity of Jesus) which he has solemnly undertaken to teach, we urge that the only honourable course open to him is to resign any post he occupies as an accredited teacher of his church ... in the last resort (i) if a central Christian doctrine is at stake, (ii) if the clergyman concerned is not just questioning it but denying it, (iii) if he is not just passing through a temporary period of uncertainty but has reached a settled conviction, and (iv) if he refuses to resign, then we believe the bishop (or other leader) should seriously consider withdrawing his licence or permission to teach in the church.[29]

Others continue to believe (though, it seems, myopically) that all Anglicans are 'really' united, whatever their views, by virtue of their common loyalty to the Anglican communion as a going concern, and that a transcendent synthesis of what now appear as contradictory theologies either exists already or will exist some day. So they decline to be troubled by any outbursts of apparent heterodoxy, or to be moved by others' distress at them, judging that the heretics' continuing loyalty to the institution suffices to excuse any unfortunate things they say. There is no official attitude to public heterodoxy among Anglicans, but this is the common attitude of officials in the Church's administrative hierarchy.

Finally, a strident minority, whose noise-to-numbers ratio in the Church of England reminds one of the 3, 000-strong British Humanist Association in Britain's domestic affairs, insists that any ascription to Jesus and his church of any kind of ultimate significance should be accepted as a legitimate Christian option, since the focusing of this significance is what Christian theology with its inescapable conceptual relativism is really all about.

Advocates of the three positions understand Scripture and practise theology in such different ways that genuine communication between them is next to impossible. They are to each other very different animals, and from this standpoint comparing the Church of England which contains them to Noah's ark is not facetious but apt.

I do not suppose I am the only one for whom Anglicanism still means identifying with official doctrinal standards (creeds and Articles, historically understood), and appreciating the Anglican heritage - the 1662 Prayer Book, beside which modern alternatives seem so feeble and wet; the ethos of a biblically reformed and informed traditionalism; the concern for catholicity which makes Anglicans eager to embrace everything of value in other churches' traditions, and the hatred of sectarianism which makes them hostile to narrow one-sidedness; the practical, pastoral orientation of theological enquiry; the long-suffering tolerance which waits for things to be thoroughly discussed, lest consciences be wounded or truth squandered; and so forth. Nor do I suppose I am the only one whose active Anglicanism expresses, not complacency at what the Church is today, but hope of what it may be tomorrow, when (please God) it reapprehends its heritage and is renewed in so doing. How should Anglicans of my sort, for whom so often it is only the Anglican ideal that makes actual Anglicanism bearable, view the present state of doctrine in the Church of England? The next chapter will try to answer that question.

3. Anglican Comprehensiveness - The Hard-Made Decision

'THE hard-made decision' is Beethoven's phrase; he wrote it in capitals (DER SCHWER GEFASSTE ENTSCHLUSS) above the last movement of his last quartet (Op. 135, in F). With it he wrote a question-and-answer motto over the two three-note phrases which start its main theme: 'Must it be? It must be.' (Muss es sein? Es muss sein.) It was his last word on the topic about which for a quarter of a century he had been sending the world musical messages, the Eroica symphony being the first. That topic was the creative and even joyous acceptance of circumstances so far from ideal that you feel them threatening to crush you. Beethoven, the first great composer to see music as personal communication, spent his best years focusing in some thirty transcendent masterpieces aspects of that spirit which, when 'fate knocks at the door', refuses to be crushed, but regains strength and fights back to triumph - not over the pressure, but under it. It was fitting that eight months after finishing the quartet, and following two days of unconsciousness, Beethoven should be momentarily roused by an enormous thunderclap and die open-eyed, his clenched fist raised 'with a very serious, threatening expression'. The quartet, however, is peaceful. The motto, says Sullivan, 'is a summary of the great Beethoven problem of destiny and submission. But Beethoven ... treats the old question here with the lightness, even the humour, of one to whom the issue is settled and familiar ... the portentous question meets with a jovial, almost exultant answer, and the ending is one of perfect confidence.'[30] Living daily with acute frustrations - deafness, his ears 'whistling and buzzing constantly'; loneliness; unsteady health; poverty; the dirty, depressing muddle of his bachelor home; and a failed relationship with his nephew, the one person on whom he lavished love and from whom he sought love in return - Beethoven was voicing contentment, not indeed with pain and grief as such, but with the creativity which his pain and grief had enhanced. 'Must it be? It must be.' As if to say: I would not have shaped my task as circumstances have now shaped it, but I accept it, and find life to be satisfying and worth-while as I rise to it. On which the proper comment is the dictum of Ecclesiastes: 'There is nothing better for a man than that he should eat and drink, and find enjoyment In his toil' (2:24, cf. 3:22). How true that is.

In this chapter I shall suggest that fruitfulness for oneself and others may come from a comparable 'hard-made decision' to commit oneself to Anglicanism despite its doctrinal disorders. I shall not, however, suggest that this is in any way a heroic gesture. The Beethoven of Op. 135 would have laughed at the idea that his acceptance of the inevitable was heroic; maybe he thought so in his Eroica days,[31] but at the age of 56 he took himself less seriously. This was how it had to be, and that was that. Mature Christians who toil and endure for God do not think themselves heroes either; for them too it is all in the day's work, as God helps them to do what has to be done next. It was so with Paul. Once, for pastoral reasons, he felt obliged, against his preference, to catalogue the hair-shirt conditions of his life as if he was boasting about them. ' ... Far more imprisonments, with countless beatings ... once I was stoned. Three times I have been shipwrecked ... in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from the Gentiles ... danger from false brethren ... And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure upon me of my anxiety for all the churches ... Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant?' (2 Cor. 11:23-29). But he felt awkward saying all this, lest he seem to be parading himself as a hero; as he soon found opportunity to repeat (for he had said it at length already in the earlier part of the letter), he was no more than a man who in conscious weakness knew the strengthening power of his Lord (12:5-10; cf. 11:30, chaps. 1-5~). And all who, with Paul, labour up to the limit for Christian conversion and nurture, and against unbelief, misbelief and sin in the church, know themselves to be in the same boat. They do what they have to do, in the strength of the Lord who moved them to attempt it, and give him the glory for whatever goes right.

3.1. Anglican by Choice

First let it be stressed, now as I start my argument, that Anglicans today are so by choice. This is because the visible church is now split into overlapping denominations; you opt for the one you prefer. There was no such choice in apostolic or patristic days, for then each local congregation was seen as an outcrop and microcosm of the one world church, and being one with your own local group was part of the definition of being a Christian. Nor was there any such choice in the Middle Ages, when one communion (based on either Rome or Constantinople) existed in each Christian country and all were routinely brought into it by infant baptism. After the Reformation a choice of sorts existed, but English patriotism was held to prescribe allegiance to the national church, and for centuries Dissent, whether of Roman recusants or Protestant nonconformists, was regarded as, if not actually treasonable, at least somewhat subversive and schismatic. But since the Lambeth Conference of 1920 issued its 'Appeal to all Christian People', Anglicans everywhere have learned to respect non-Anglican churches for the Christianity they maintain, and this creates an open-choice situation with regard to Anglicanism itself.

In North America, where no church is established or given national-church status and the Anglican church is not the largest, newspaper adverts invite you to attend 'the church of your choice'. In England the Church of England remains the established national church, seeking to pastor the nation in Christ's name, and is far the largest Christian body, yet those Englishmen who attend church at all do in fact go to 'the church of their choice' as truly as North Americans do. Anglicanism as the English folk-religion, a patriotic observance or a social formality, is almost dead. Today's Anglicans choose to be Anglicans rather than anything else for Christian rather than social or secular reasons - that is, they become and stay Anglicans because they find in Anglicanism a satisfying expression of Christianity. Church allegiance has thus become really if regrettably (and not all regret it), a matter of Christian liberty - with which goes Christian responsibility, the duty of making the best possible decision, and from which, on the principles of Romans 14, comes Christian diversity as folk decide differently. It would be shallow to object here that church allegiance is usually determined by inertia, the habit of staying put, for in a matter of this kind inertia is itself a choice. People opt for the church which seems actually or potentially to have what they look for in terms of doctrinal commitment, worship style, preaching and teaching, pastoral care, group activities, opportunities of service, episcopacy (this still counts heavily for some), nearness to home, or whatever. The layman's choice will naturally be determined by the qualities of the particular congregation he joins, and rightly so; he is, after all, choosing his spiritual home. Yet he has some responsibility to evaluate the denomination to which it belongs, just as local government electors should weigh the party platform of candidates whom they know and trust as persons before giving them their votes. In both cases, personal affinity may rightly end up as the deciding factor, but the other should at least be thought about. Clergy, however, being willy-nilly denominational officers, have to weigh the denominational issue more carefully.

I maintain that a man with his eyes open to the full range of Anglican doctrinal pluralism may yet responsibly choose to be an Anglican, even an Anglican minister, though it may be a hard-made decision bringing misery as well as fulfilment. I do not maintain (I had better say this outright) that choosing to be an Anglican is a virtue, or that choosing not to be one or not to stay one is a vice. Choice, we saw, is necessary, and anyone may conclude that, rather than be Anglican, Methodist, Baptist Union or United Reformed (all which bodies are doctrinally mixed), he should join one of the smaller groups (Brethren, Pentecostals, Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches, Reformed Baptists, Free Church of Scotland, etc.) which debar from the ranks of their teachers anyone holding 'critical' views of Scripture or rejecting major evangelical tenets. To be sure, some think these smaller bodies purchase doctrinal purity at the price of theological stagnation, and are cultural backwaters out of touch with society around, just as some think Anglican allegiance is an unholy identification with cultural privilege, ecclesiastical worldliness and theological indifferentism. But these matters are arguable both ways, and neither estimate need be accepted. More important is respect for the other man's deliberate decision, whether or not it coincides with your own.

3.2. Ongoing Doctrinal Conflict

He who chooses Anglicanism finds himself, as we have seen, in a large, loose, complex church structure with a conservative tone but a seemingly endless willingness to tolerate cultured heretics. It has an official doctrinal commitment to the sufficiency of 'God's Word written' (Articles VI, XX), and a liturgical custom of reading Scripture in large quantities, larger perhaps than any other mainline church can match. But it is currently split on what the Bible means, so that the range of beliefs found among its teachers is startlingly, not to say scandalously, wide, and recognizable evangelical faith, whether protestant, anglo-catholic or charismatic in colouring, is a minority phenomenon. Yet God's church, of which the Church of England is professedly part, is charged to guard the deposit of apostolic teaching, to adhere unwaveringly to the New Testament gospel (cf. Gal. 1:6-9; 2 Tim. 1:12 f., 2:2), and so to prove itself 'the pillar and bulwark of the truth' (1 Tim. 3:15). How then do evangelicals who, whether for reasons already given or for others, choose Anglicanism view the doctrinal free-for-all which Anglican comprehensiveness has become? Often they bemoan it, as I have been doing myself; what, then, makes it possible for them to accept it? Have they ceased to regard faithful stewardship of God's revealed truth as the church's calling, and their own too? Or are they compromising their principles by ducking the issue? Or what? How can they have a good conscience, living cheek-by-jowl with so much heterodox teaching? These are proper and pressing questions; no Anglican evangelical can be excused from facing them, nor commended if he tries or manages to get along without an answer to them.

Here in a nutshell is my answer, for what it is worth. I submit that evangelicals were right to approve the older type of comprehensiveness, based on common acceptance of the fundamentals of the creed, but that they cannot and, for a fact, do not commend or condone what that historic comprehensiveness has now turned into. They accept it reluctantly and with sorrow, as in a fallen world and an imperfectly sanctified church they accept much else reluctantly and with sorrow. They accept it not as one of Anglicanism's special goodies but as the unavoidable result of one of Anglicanism's other qualities, namely its desire to rule out no questions and clamp down on no discussions, but to give every viewpoint which claims, however freakishly, to be in line with Scripture and reason, opportunity to make its claim good, if it can. Approving this quality as a mark of both human and Christian maturity, they are prepared to show conscientious goodwill to a good deal of experimental theology which would, perhaps, be looked at askance in doctrinally unmixed churches. But in accepting Anglicanism's present doctrinal plurality in this way their conscience is good and their commitment to doctrinal purity as an ideal remains uncompromised, for:

(1) They see that in the providence of God much insight, stimulus and help in understanding spins off from work done by good scholars whose claim to be interpreting Christianity is marred by some seemingly heterodox opinions. From this they conclude that the church gains more from continuing to accept these men on the basis of their own good intentions, while looking to its orthodox scholars to correct any oddities, than it could do by officially outlawing them and declining to pay serious attention to their work. The formalist idea of orthodoxy as a matter merely of keeping yesterday's dogmatic formulae intact seems inadequate to evangelicals, vigorously as they often defend these formulae; the orthodoxy that evangelicals seek is one which, while wholly faithful to the substance of the biblical message, will be fully contemporary in orientation and expression, and they know that to this end experiments in re-statement must be allowed. They know too that in matters exegetical and theological the profoundest perception does not always belong to those who aim to be 'sound' and 'safe', and they are sensitive to the narrowing effect which restricting oneself to what is 'sound' and 'safe' can have on the mind. So, because of the great potential benefit of what the theological explorers do, Anglican evangelicals think it right to be patient with them, despite what appear to be dropped bricks; you do not shoot explorers, any more than pianists, when they are doing their best. Evangelicals perceive that much of the exploring is done on the basis of the academic freedom which all scholars outside Communist countries claim - that is, freedom to follow the argument wherever it seems to lead and to publish novel notions, hypothetically held, to see how the scholarly world reacts to them. Also, evangelicals perceive that if in the course of these explorations real fundamental heresy is put out, wittingly or unwittingly, more benefit comes to the church from public analysis and refutation (as when Paul trounced the Galatian and Colossian heresies, and Augustine the Pelagian heresy, and John Owen the Socinian heresy) than from any use of the big stick on the offending author. The words quoted above from the C. E. E. C. document showed that they do not rule out discreet use of the big stick as a last resort on heretical clergy guilty of what used to be called contumacy (and for this there is biblical precedent: see 1 Tim. 1:20; 2 Jn. 9-11). But evangelicals think that, as the same document goes on to say: 'The most effective way to restrain and correct error Is not by a resort to repressive measures but by a convincing commendation of the truth, with a corollary exposure of error in all its arbitrariness and incoherence.'[32]

In a mature Christian community such as the Church of England seeks to be, one which declines any Idea of infallible Popes, bishops or preachers but gives the Bible to the laity so that the whole community together may judge on matters of faith, demonstration through debate naturally and necessarily becomes the basic form of discipline in Christian doctrine. The risks of the procedure (unending pluralism, constant muddle, public vacillation and embarrassment) are high; however, its benefits (ripe convictions emerging from a long hard look at alternatives) make the risks worth taking.

(2) Evangelicals see it as part of their own task in the Church of England to serve present and future Anglicans (not to say members of the doctrinally-unmixed bodies mentioned earlier) by themselves tackling off-key views in debate and showing them inadequate. While welcoming what insights they find in the work of the heterodox, they approach the excrescences of current Anglican over-comprehensiveness from the standpoint of the original comprehensiveness to which they adhere as their ideal, and what seems to cut at fundamentals they attack. They do not passively accept all the disorder they find. Nor do they accept that they are guilty by association of the errors they oppose (a nonsense notion, which has been given an unhappy airing during the past two decades); nor do they accept that they are settling for a situation in which no doctrinal discipline operates. They urge, rather, that discipline (which means training - Latin, disciplina) is in Scripture a primarily pastoral concept, and that the kind of pastorally-oriented controversy in which they engage is the basic form of discipline in the doctrinal realm.

Ecumenical idealists on the one hand and evangelical separatists on the other think it scandalous that the visible church should be racked with conflicts about belief, and labour for a state of affairs in which their neck of the woods, at any rate, shall be free from it. Conflict over doctrine, however, and fundamental doctrine at that (the person, work, place and sufficiency of Jesus Christ our Saviour), kept occurring in the apostolic church, as witness the New Testament letters, and we find Paul writing to the Corinthians: 'No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God's approval' (1 Cor. 11:19, MV). Implicit in his words seems to be the far-reaching principle that God will regularly allow divisions of one sort or another to enter the churches, as they had entered the Corinthian community, so that the different consequences for spiritual enrichment or leanness of different beliefs and ways of behaving may become plain. Certainly, evangelicals in the Church of England do not suppose that their conflict with well-meant misbelief will be over until the Lord comes. But they are not discouraged. They see this task as part of the package deal which they accepted when they chose Anglicanism, and they know that for them this choice was the 'best buy'. A hard-made decision? Maybe; but not one to regret, for all the burdens it brings.

It is important not to miss the force of this reasoning by falling victim to the sectarian idea, sometimes met, that evnngelicalism, being Christianity at its purest, ought to practice self-sufficiency in theology, taking nothing from the mixed bag of Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Anglo-Catholic and liberal Protestant thought on the grounds that nothing in that bag can help evangelicals in the least. Were this idea sound, the case for patience with the intermittently heterodox would be less strong; but the idea is not sound. I for one regard the evangelicalism outlined in the opening paragraphs of this essay as the purest Christianity that the world has seen since apostolic times, and in that sense I affirm Christianity to be evangelicalism and vice versa. But it does not follow that adherents of other mutations of Christianity, mutations which seem less close overall to the spirit, belief and thrust of the New Testament, have nothing to teach me on this or that particular point - nothing, that is, which I could not have learned from some evangelical source. Nor does it follow that I serve God best by assuming there are no new truths, or new applications of truth, that wait to break forth from his holy Word, so that as a teacher in the church I need only repeat traditional evangelical positions and I shall have done my job. The truth is rather this: Theology is an ongoing corporate enterprise which in principle involves the whole church. It is an enterprise through which everyone's under- standing of what God has revealed is again and again enlarged. It proceeds by dialogue with past and present attempts to spell out that revelation, dialogue through which Scripture actually evaluates the various attempts made to expound it. We all need to examine and re-examine by Scripture whether our own traditions, as well as those of others, are true and adequate (two questions, not just one); and the late B. B. Warfield, as doughty a Reformed traditionalist as the world has seen, was right when he said in conversation that the theologian must be like the busy bee, always moving around gathering raw material for honey from all sorts of flowers. So it is best, in these days when identifying the main stream of Christian belief is not a problem (it was different in New Testament times), not to treat those who seem heretical on one key point in a way that keeps the church from benefiting by their insight on other points. Hence the preferable course is exposition and debate.

3.3. A Sense of Proportion

I have tried in this essay to formulate an overall approach to the over-comprehensiveness which for many is the saddest aspect of the present day Church of England. Not all the many, incidentally, are evangelicals; there can be few Anglican catholics who do not feel equal misery at the freedom to sit loose to fundamentals which some theologians claim in the name of contemporary reinterpretation of the faith. But we must not get this out of proportion. The handful of distinguished radicals who are at present catching the public eye are as nothing compared to the solid body of Anglicans, lay and clerical, for whom Scripture remains God's message to us, who identify the Christ of faith with the Jesus of history and the Jesus of history with the Jesus of the gospels, and who still value the creeds as declaring the key facts on which faith rests. Far more exposition of the evangelical faith by Anglicans goes into print than of radical alternatives, and far more renewal of spiritual life is experienced where Christ is proclaimed from the Bible in the old way than where radical notions have come. (Radicals talk much of renewal, but the pastoral barrenness of their doctrine is a byword). By God's mercy the Church of England, though disorderly, is far from dead, and there is no solid reason to suppose that those Anglicans who contend for the historic gospel are fighting a losing battle.

We looked earlier at J. C. Ryle, the evangelical champion whose episcopate began in 1880, just over a century ago. Folk sometimes guess what he might say could be inspect the Church of England now, and I shall add my guess to theirs. He would note how the Church has shrunk and lost influence; he would tell us that it looks more like a doctrinal Noah's ark than ever. But he would also thankfully record that his often expressed fear that the Church would split and sink had proved unfounded; that there was in fact more unity on essentials than in his day, and more concern for evangelism, and more respect for each other among the parties, that there was less Romanizing and less quarrelsomeness than he knew, and more esprit de corps. Our radicalism might well make him blink, but he would see it, despite the self-confidence of its exponents, as what it is - an aggregate of unstable minority positions, for none of which can long life be expected. Despite its presence he would, I think, take heart, and tell all evangelicals to do the same.

But the argument I have been using to justify the hard-made decision of Anglican allegiance is one of principle - namely, that the way in which Anglican tolerance obliges you to cope with Anglican doctrinal disorder is, though taxing, the best way both for you and for the Church as a whole; and this argument does not draw any of its force from rosy hopes for the future. On the doctrinal front I do not in fact entertain rosy hopes. Reduced Christianities, like the poor, will no doubt always be with us, and it is not my thought that a good heave now would rid us of them for all time. I simply urge that the way of dealing with them which has been described will continue to be the right and proper way, however angry or upset their existence makes you feel, and whether the Church seems for the moment to be gaining doctrinal purity or losing it. The motto of Oak Hill Theological College, where I was once privileged to teach, is 'Be Right and Persist', and that is the practical summons to which, as it seems to me, my argument of principle leads.

01 The Evangelical Anglican Identity Problem Jim Packer

02 The ASB Rite A Communion: A Way Forward Roger Beckwith

03 The Doctrine of Justification in the Church of England - Robin Leaver

04 Justification Today: The Roman Catholic and Anglican Debate - R. G. England

05/06 Homosexuals in the Christian Fellowship David Atkinson

07 Nationhood: A Christian Perspective O. R. Johnston

08 Evangelical Anglican Identity: Problems and Prospects - Tom Wright

09 Confessing the Faith in the Church of England Today - Roger Beckwith

10 A Kind of Noah's Ark? The Anglican Commitment to Comprehensiveness Jim Packer

11 Sickness and Healing in the Church Donald Allister

12 Rome and Reformation Today: How Luther Speaks to the New Situation - James Atkinson

13 Music as Preaching: Bach, Passions and Music in Worship - Robin Leaver

14 Jesus Through Other Eyes: Christology in a Multi-Faith Context - Christopher Lamb

15 Church and State Under God - James Atkinson

16 Language and Liturgy

Gerald Bray, Steve Wilcockson, Robin Leaver

17 Christianity and Judaism: New Understanding, New Relationship - James Atkinson

18 Sacraments and Ministry in Ecumenical Perspective - Gerald Bray

19 The Functions of a National Church Max Warren


The Thirty-Nine Articles: Their Place and Use Today - Jim Packer, Roger Beckwith

22 How We Got Our Prayer Book - T. W. Drury, Roger Beckwith

23/24 Creation or Evolution: a False Antithesis? Mike Poole, Gordon Wenham

25 Christianity and the Craft - Gerard Moate

26 ARCIC II and Justification - Alister McGrath

27 The Challenge of the Housechurches Tony Higton, Gilbert Kirby

28 Communion for Children? The Current Debate A. A. Langdon

29/30 Theological Politics

Nigel Biggar

31 Eucharistic Consecration in the First Four Centuries and its Implications for Liturgical Reform - Nigel Scotland

32 A Christian Theological Language - Gerald Bray

33 Mission in Unity: The Bible and Missionary Structures - Duncan McMann

34 Stewards of Creation: Environmentalism in the Light of Biblical Teaching - Lawrence Osborn

35/36 Mission and Evangelism in Recent Thinking: 1974-1986 - Robert Bashford

37 Future Patterns of Episcopacy: Reflections in Retirement - Stuart Blanch

38 Christian Character: Jeremy Taylor and Christian Ethics Today - David Scott

39 Islam: Towards a Christian Assessment Hugh Goddard

40 Liberal Catholicism: Charles Gore and the Question of Authority - G. F. Grimes

41/42 The Christian Message in a Multi-Faith Society Colin Chapman

43 The Way of Holiness 1: Principles - D. A. Ousley

44/45 The Lambeth Articles - V. C. Miller

46 The Way of Holiness 2: Issues - D. A. Ousley

47 Building Multi-Racial Churches - John Root

48 Episcopal Oversight: A Case for Reform David Holloway

49 Euthanasia: A Christian Evaluation Henk Jochemsen

50/51 The Rough Places Plain: AEA 1995

52 A Critique of Spirituality - John Pearce

53/54 The Toronto Blessing - Martyn Percy

55 The Theology of Rowan Williams Garry Williams

56/57 Reforming Forwards? The Process of Reception and the Consecration of Woman as Bishops Peter Toon

58 The Oath of Canonical Obedience - Gerald Bray

59 The Parish System: The Same Yesterday, Today And For Ever? - Mark Burkill

60 'I Absolve You': Private Confession and the Church of England - Andrew Atherstone

61 The Water and the Wine: A Contribution to the Debate on Children and Holy Communion Roger Beckwith, Andrew Daunton-Fear

62 Must God Punish Sin? - Ben Cooper

63 Too Big For Words?: The Transcendence of God and Finite Human Speech –Mark D. Thompson

64 A Step Too Far: An Evangelical Critique of Christian Mysticism - Marian Raikes

65 The New Testament & Slavery: Approaches & Implicaitons - Mark Meynall

66 The Tragedy of 1662: The Ejection & Persecution of Puritans from the Restoration to the Revolution - Lee Gatiss

[1] The Evangelical Anglican Identity Problem: An Analysis, Oxford: Latimer House, 1978.

[2] op. cit., pp. 20 ff. In the first chapter of Knots Untied (1877) J. C. Ryle defined evangelical religion in terms of the supremacy of Scripture, the sinfulness of man, the substitutionary atonement of Christ and the sanctifying work of the Spirit.

[3] See Hooker's Learned Discourse of Justification, Works, Oxford: OUP, 1875, II. 600 ff.

[4] See, for justification of these statements, J. A. T. Robinson, Honest to God, London: SCM, 1963; The Human Face of God London: SCM, 1973; Don Cupitt in The Myth of God Incarnate, London: SCM, 1977, pp. 133 ff.; M. F. Wiles, The Remaking of Christian Doctrjne, London: SCM, 1974; G. W. H. Lampe, God as Spirit, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1977, and essay in A. Vidler, (ed.) Soundings Cambridge: CUP, 1962, pp. 173 ff.; Dennis Nineham in The Myth of God Incarnate, pp. 186 ff.

[5] On Simeon, see Memoirs, ed. W. Carus, 3rd ed., London, 1848; H. C. G. Moule, Charles Simeon, London, 1892; repr. IVP, 1948; Charles Smyth, Simeon and Church Order, Cambridge: CUP, 1940; Hugh Evan Hopkins, Charles Simeon of Cambriclgç, London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1977. On Ryle, see M. L. Loane, John Charles Ryle, London: James Clarke, 1953; J. C. Ryle, A Self Portrait, ed. P. Toon, Swengel, Pa.: Reiner, 1975; P. Toon and M. Smout, John Charles Ryle: Evangelical Bishop, Swengel, Pa.: Reiner, 1976.

[6] Hopkins, op. cit., p. 118. Simeon wrote: 'many of those who hear me are legions in themselves because they are going forth to preach, or else to fill stations of influence in society. In that view, I look on my position here as the highest and most important in the kingdom, nor would I exchange it for any other'; op. cit., p. 86.

[7] Toon and Smout, op. cit., p. 71.

[8] For example, Expository Thoughts on the four gospels; Christian Leaders of the 18th Century; The Upper Room; Holiness; Practical Religion; Old Paths; etc.

[9] Holiness, 1952 repr., London: James Clarke, pp. 307 f.; from a chapter entitled 'Wants of the Times'.

[10] Cf. R. T. Beckwith, G. E. Duffield, J. I. Packer, Across the Divide, Basingstoke: Lyttelton Press, 1977.

[11] Carus, op. cit. p. 506. Sinleon called himself a 'moderate Calvinist', p. 294.

[12] Principles for Churchmen, London, 1884, p. xxiv.

[13] op. cit., p. 41.

[14] Vidler, Essays in Liberality, London: SCM, 1957, p. 166.

[15] On Maurice, see A. M. Ramsey, F. D. Maurice and the Conflicts of Modern Theology, Cambridge: CUP, 1951; Alec Vidler, F. D. Maurice and Company, London: SCM, 1966; W. Merlin Davies, An Introduction to the Theology of F. D. Maurice, London: SPCK, 1964; Torben Christensen, The Divine Order, Leiden: Brill, 1973.

[16] Maurice, The Kingdom of Christ, 1838, II. 338.

[17] Stephen W. Sykes, The Integrity of Anglicanism, London: Mowbrays, 1978, p. 19.

[18] E. Amand de Mendieta, 'From Anglican Symbiosis to Anglican Synthesis' in The Anglican Synthesis, ed. W. R. F. Browning, Derby: Peter Smith, 1964, p. 144.

[19] op. cit., pp. 147, 153. The source of the 'dialectical church' idea is acknowledged to be H. A. Hodges in Anglicanism and Orthodoxy: a study in Dialectical Churchmanship, London: SCM, 1957.

[20] The Lambeth Conference 1948, London: SPCK, 1948, 11. 50 f.

[21] For evidence of this, compare C. O. Buchanan, E. L. Mascall, J. I. Packer, Bishop of Willesden (G. D. Leonard), Growing into Union, London: SPCK, 1970, especially chs. 1-7, with The Apostolic Ministry, ed. K. E. Kirk, London: Hodders, 1946, which argued the necessity of episcopacy to the church's very being, and the report Catholicity, London: Dacre, 1947, which presented Protestantism as a total distortion of Christianity.

[22] This point is gently but firmly made by E. L. Mascall in Theology and the Gospel of Christ, London: SPCK, 1978.

[23] Sykes, op. cit., p. 23.

[24] op. cit., p. 31.

[25] op. cit., pp. 32f.

[26] op. cit., p. 33.

[27] op. cit., p. 30. The report was entitled Doctrine in the Church of England, The Report of the Commission on Christian Doctrine appointed by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York in 1922, London: SPCK, 1938.

[28] Christian Believing, London: SPCK, 1976, pp. 35-39.

[29] Truth, Error and Discipline in the Church; issued by the Church of England Evangelical Council, London: Vine Books, 1978, pp. 12f.

[30] J. W. N. Sullivan, Beethoven, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1949, p. 155.

[31] Cf. Sullivan, op. cit., pp. 60-77, where the Heiligenstadt Testament of 1802 is printed in full.

[32] Truth, Error and Discipline in the Church, p. 14. The earlier quotation is in Section 2.5 above.


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