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Anglicanism's Essential Ingredient

Anglicanism's Essential Ingredient

By Roger Salter
June 14, 2016

There are of course notable exceptions to Anglicanism's current tale of woe. But broadly speaking our Communion is in an effete condition. We have lost our theological thrust. Our Canterbury leadership seems powerless. It must be the weakest, most wavering and uncertain in decades. Our overall existence seems useless as far as the interests of the Gospel are concerned. Even past archbishops and bishops who had no allegiance to the Anglican Way as delineated in the Articles, BCP, Homilies, and Ordinal had some good things to say. But such is unlikely anymore, except on the rarest of occasions at remote points of the Anglican compass. Our condition is dire. By and large we lack true and biblical fire. The average parish service excels in the expertise of inducing spiritual sedation. Many bishops would bore the socks of Tommy Hilfiger.

Whatever else Anglicanism is, it is about doctrine but we don't assert sound doctrine anymore. We squeak our faith in an attitude of timidity. In the truths of old we are not all bold.

Anglicanism used to be a bastion of strong Augustinianism. But not anymore. It is floppy in the extreme. A disgrace to the memory of our spiritual masters and martyrs who shaped us at the Reformation and whose heirs exhibited marked Scriptural strength of saving conviction in their ministries.

Our doctrinal standards shaped in the 16th Century are clearly Augustinian and predestinarian - the kind of stuff that put's courage, clarity, and conviction in our preaching and teaching of the word of God and exults in the absolute sovereignty of God and humbles man to total dependence on the grace of God alone. Arminianism is un-Anglican according to the known views of those who formulated our doctrinal stance in the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion. We accept and subscribe these views in accordance with the evident intention of the authors and advocates of Reformed Catholicism. One is reminded of the portrait that shows Thomas Cranmer seated close to volumes of Holy Scripture and St. Augustine. The modern version of Anglicanism, spurious of course, is close to neither.

The heresy of Arminianism and the outrage of Pelagianism now prevail.

Calvinism/Augustinianism/Article 17/ Electing Love is the beating heart of Anglicanism to be confessed and communicated. New Zealand theologian William Gray Dickson advised that divine and distinguishing grace was the substrata of Reformed doctrine that at various points revealed itself as rocky outcrops on the theological terrain. The doctrine is to be owned and shown in Anglican teaching as something foundational and always borne in mind.

William Romaine one of the brightest luminaries in the 18th century Awakening avoided controversy and division as much as possible but he held to the line in repudiation of Arminianism: "I would not be an Arminian for the world; because I am not only willing, but happy in getting more and more into Christ's debt. They are only pensioners in heaven; they take all from him in use, and carry all back to him in praise. God teach us this heavenly lesson. Although I have learned but little, yet I would not be saved in any other way, than by sovereign grace; for only by this can I find employment in oneness with God - All is grace, all is debt. The sense of this keeps one humble." Romaine biographer Thomas Haweis observes, "He was too full of the election of grace, the divine righteousness and complete redemption, which is in the Son of God, to bend these truths to the temper of half-hearted professors, or to accommodate Calvinistic doctrines to Arminian gospellers."

This comment makes the point that genuine Augustinians are not in the business of controverting for controversy's sake. They are not preoccupied with debate in abstruse matters of metaphysics, philosophy, doctrine, and determinism versus free will. They wish, in their preaching of the gospel, to accord full honor, glory, and gratitude to the lovely Lord Jesus and his marvelous accomplishment on behalf of the helpless and unwilling, and to bring maximum consolation to believers who have been wooed by the irresistible attractiveness of the Savior. Restoration to God is something of a heart to heart romance between Christ and his chosen. Augustinianism is all about the exaltation of Jesus and the encouragement of his people. As regards the doctrine of electing love we may say that Paul said it, Augustine read it, and we must spread it.

Ambrose Serle (1742-1812), a close friend of Romaine, is well known from early American history as an under-secretary to the secretary of state for the colonies. Tim Shenton in his account of the life of Romaine cites from The Gentleman's Magazine (1812) the interesting view that, "Nowhere does the conviction of the vital importance of Calvinism as of the essence of the gospel appear more strongly than in Serle's books ('An Iron Pillar', The Life and Times of William Romaine, Tim Shenton, Evangelical Press, Darlington, England, 2004). Romaine and Serle existed together in the bond of determinate divine love

Can it not be agreed that Anglicanism has a crying need for Iron Pillars in our time?

Would it not be a joy to sing with confidence:

My Lord, I did not choose you
for that could never be;
my heart would still refuse
had you not chosen me:
you took the sin that stained me,
you cleansed me, made me new,
for you, Lord, had ordained me
that I should live in you.

Unless your grace had called me
and taught my opening mind
the world would have enthralled me,
to heavenly glories blind:
my heart knows none above you;
for you I long, I thirst,
and know that, if I love you,
Lord, you loved me first.

J. Condor (1789 1855)

While Anglicanism increasingly neglects and ignores its confessional heritage a number of young Catholic scholars are reclaiming for their church the forgotten doctrine of predestination (Andrew J. Allen, Matthew Levering, Guido Stucco). If these men happen to resolve the issue in terms of Thomistic theology then, in maintaining the features of predilection and the grace of disposition along the lines of St. Prosper of Aquitaine's insistence upon the universal love of God, a closeness to infralapsarian Calvinism is attained. Details within the Reformed doctrine of election will vary, but the essence of the doctrine happens to be summed up in the words of Gregory of Rimini, "Anyone predestined was predestined from the mercy and gracious will of God alone".

All are invited through the open door gospel of Christ. None are prevented. Given universal refusal through fallen and sinful nature grace ensures that many will come, willingly enraptured by the vision of the beauty and love of Christ. Absolute divine sovereignty; absolute human helplessness and hostility toward God. These are the fundamentals of Anglican thought on salvation. If lost the sinner is to be blamed. If saved God is to be blessed.

Christ is All.

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

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