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The Issue of Identity

By Roger Salter
November 3, 2018

Should Anglicanism be the polymorphous entity that it is today and is there justice or hope in attempting a standard definition of the authentic character of the third largest Christian Communion in the world? It seems that ecclesiastical expertise and denominational conferences are not able conclusively to settle the contentious issue as to what is Anglicanism. Any attempt to do so serves only to deepen the divisions, refuel controversy, and increase the confusion for those earnest in arriving at a satisfactory conclusion that can create a dynamic unity in the proclamation of a thoroughly Scriptural and credible proclamation of the Gospel without compromise.

The question at hand is not who is qualified to be considered truly in union with Christ, about which (the quintessence of real Christian existence) there is no absolute assurance, humanly speaking, but a question about which faith tradition happens to approximate best to the rule of Holy Scripture (in the non-legalistic sense of actual attachment to the Lord expressed in intellectual accuracy in regard to the meaning of the text and experimental exposure to the influence of the Holy Spirit who equips us with insight). Sincere faith may be somewhat feeble and partial, or more full orbed in different individuals and groupings. Labels are too shorthand to account for the complexities of relationship to God where a fundamental allegiance to Christ is affirmed or credible. We scarcely discern as to what is superficial or sound in our own spiritual condition, so poor-sighted are we, and ignorant of our core selves. How often we revise or reverse our opinions when our mental limitations become apparent, our knowledge increases, and objectivity gains the upper hand in our cognitive processes. There are frequently undiscerned motives that determine our attitudes to propositions, principles, and the persons who propound them. The Collect for Purity is a good beginning to theological discussion as well as worship. "Almighty God, unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hidden, cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy name, through Christ our Lord".

We all must cast ourselves upon the mercy of God and gradually undergo our transformation to the likeness of Christ without pride, presumption, and self-deceit. Our only ground of salvation is confidence in the shed blood of Christ - justification by faith alone as to divine acceptance, which will be supported simultaneously by the incipient evidence of new life as to participation in divinely donated holiness. Such is our plight as fallen and inwardly divided creatures that head and heart may fail to agree. We are divided, unstable, and unsearchable within. How many of our readily and routinely professed views and convictions are consolidated in lucid and mature understanding?

J.I. Packer has pointed to the marked difference between the intellectual views and devotional sentiments of certain 'thought to be dubious" thinkers, and C.H. Spurgeon has commented in his copy of F.D. Maurice's Prophets and Kings of the Old Testament, "'Herein we find a great deal of wild doctrine, but yet there is thought of no mean order. We can wash out the gold.' Dr. Pusey on The Minor Prophets is 'Invaluable' Spurgeon could appreciate the scholarly achievements of those with whom he disagreed on theological grounds" (Kathy Triggs, Charles Spurgeon, Bethany House Publishers, 1984).

Wherever there is truth or valid testimony we seize upon it as God's property for our use. The staunch Presbyterian John "Rabbi" Duncan himself admired some aspects of Pusey's Biblical comprehension, and the equally convinced Presbyterian David Brown enjoyed amicable correspondence with John Henry Newman over the content and importance of the Gospels. While our Confessional integrity must be strictly maintained our Christian charity may be cordially extended. When John Elliot pioneered missionary enterprise toward native Americans his only ally was a Roman Catholic whose spiritual fellowship he appreciated.

There are deep things wrought in the hearts of God's people that are not easily discovered by others or our own attempts at introspection, and busy and distracted minds of anxious people gripped by negativity may not be cognizant of what God has wrought in them. There happen to be, from every Christian outlook, human criteria (e.g. standard conversion experiences, idiosyncrasies of piety, styles of comportment) as to who is a Christian that are transcended by the free operations of divine grace. An analysis of authentic Anglicanism is not an assault on the Christian integrity of any person or party. It is a description of a way of believing, a way of devotion, worship, and spiritual discipline that is derived from the doctrine of Holy Scripture and preserved as faithfully as possible in a dependable tradition (of which there are several), conditioned by historical or cultural influences. The aim of Anglicanism is to fully realize the interior binding of the believer to God through orthodox thought and the purified affection of the heart. Understanding, depth, maturity, holiness are the strata of development through which Anglicanism conveys us - catholic in creed and regard for the early church, cleansed from papalism, discreet in ceremony, Reformed in doctrine, pastoral in design and endeavour.

The features of Anglicanism in its classic form are to be determined by history and grammar, its sources of origin, its language of doctrine, Its liturgical forms, its expression of mood, ambiance, and attitude. Anglicanism bears a character that many of its recent or modern offshoots do not reflect or possess.

This is not a denial of validity concerning other variations of approach as people choose to adopt them, but simply to aver that some versions of what is claimed to be Anglican nullify its constitutional emphases, principles, and values so as to obliterate its foundational character. Nor is this to advocate the spirit of antiquarianism, but to endorse the preservation of the Anglican Church as a Reformed Church, for it is from the Reformation that the Church of England, and of England's former colonies, that Anglicanism sprang. Its developments, revisions, and advances in its usefulness to God, need to emerge from its reformational stance I.e. the studied guidelines of the founders with regard to theology, and also to their known aspirations for the community they led. Some of these longer term aims were hindered by various events such as martyrdoms, royal intervention, and internal controversy, but in the face of adversity from without and extremism within, the vast majority of the ministry of the Church of England held fast to the Ecclesia Anglicana as a clearly Reformed Church until the rise of Laud and the Carolinian divines.

The English Reformers were steadfast and uncompromising Augustinians and their Continental influences such as Luther, Bucer, Martyr, Calvin, Zwingli, Bullinger were all of the same stamp. It is indisputable that the church of Thomas Cranmer and his immediate successors began, and was intended to continue, as a Protestant and Reformational body. The Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion establish this fact as much as some may have endeavored to tweak them or even dispense with them altogether. Like Jacob's pillar they are an emblem of a resting place for settled faith that apprehends the spiritual realities that descend to us from heaven.

Anglicans ought to possess and pursue a keen interest in the formation of their heritage - the reason why Anglicanism is what it is. The "here and now" is always a result of history, and history is alive, a meeting in the mind - encountering mentally - the figures and events, that are still with us through the force of effects of which they are the cause. If Christianity is biblical then it is inevitably historical in its character (derived from ancient sources), as well as being current through personal participation in facts that have gone before and which still confront us, these being grasped by the enabling of the Holy Spirit. How can I know what I am without some knowledge of my forbears? A Christian wants to know, or should, something of the influences that molded that which is most important to him in terms of spiritual nurture and allegiance.

To be continued...

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