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By The Rev. Roger Salter
Special to Virtueonline
January 12, 2021


Perhaps no term in ecclesiastical or denominational nomenclature is more nebulous than the appellation "Anglican". The name is adopted by adherents and devotees of exceedingly disparate and multifarious varieties of theological conviction, liturgical practice, and religious discipline that totally defy any possibility of effective harmonization, and yet all these versions of the Christian Way co-exist within the same organization or institution, and in each of its many offshoots and alternative affiliations, each laying claim to Anglicanism's essential character and ideals. The good ship Ecclesia Anglicana voyages with a motley crew. Incongruity is the bane of Anglicanism.

In its current diversity Anglicanism is an indeterminate entity with only its tag or title held in common by various churchman-ships in the mainstream (Canterbury connection), and by numerous "continuing" bodies (fresh starts), so-called, that have forsaken the parent church or risen independently, to offer an alternative option.

On its own, without labored elaboration, the professed description "Anglican" describes nothing in useful detail. The broad use of the term can encompass Anglo-Catholicism, Liberalism, veiled Atheism or Evangelicalism: High Church, Broad Church, or Low Church, and each of these categories is striped with its own accentuated emphases that germinate even distinguishing traits within its own genus. Unity within Anglicanism is a sure-fire impossibility hardly worth striving for toward the faithful proclamation of the gospel, or in cobbling many groups together for united appearance or collaborative effort. An unlikely contemporary mass influx of many new adherents to "Anglicanism" would not contribute to the upbuilding of a more viable Christian community, but merely contribute the more to the current collection of assorted opposites.

It is of course desirable, where possible, to establish mutual and cordial recognition over denominational and credal boundaries wherever the Name of Christ is seen to be sincerely confessed, trusted and adored, but resolute loyalty to the teaching of the Word of God cannot be compromised or restrained by attempts to attain a visible unity that is insecurely founded upon [polite and nervous] concession to fundamentally irreconcilable approaches to Holy Scripture as to its nature and authority, the absolute essentials of the gospel, and devout evaluation of Christian tradition. Anglicanism, as it appears at the present, facilitates too many voices and harbors too many contradictions to be of beneficial service to the saints and the commendation of Jesus Christ to the world.

A number of ministers and members of different parties within the existing and diffuse Anglican mix may well be deemed able and conscientious representatives of the Savior in their own persons, (i.e. their own personal walk with God and their love for his gospel as they apprehend it), and in those specific settings that they hold to be congenial and proper for them, but when a particular branch of the Church of God (i.e. Anglicanism), holds historically to a set of well-defined principles and observances these are, at all costs, to be conscientiously observed and preserved by those who seek inclusion and official acceptance within this particular society that they may venture to join. Roving individuals, as in the former AMiA, are not entitled to remold the features of an established order to suit themselves, and the lack of amiable (pun) familiarity with a given tradition in the attempt to secure a personal ambition or advantage is patently dishonest, underhand, and arrogant in behavior. There are sufficient choices available on the Christian landscape for any aspiring candidate for so-called Christian service, whether in ministry or membership, to make an honorable commitment elsewhere than in Anglicanism itself without rendering a "tongue in cheek" oath of loyalty that commences their assumed relationship with dubiety and insincerity.

Affiliation is a solemn step to take and it is unconscionable to frame a decision of association as a matter of mere convenience. It is a mistake to regard Anglicanism as inherently loose in principle and as an open container of varied theological conviction and opinion where representatives may propound whatever they prefer. As a Reformed Catholic communion Anglicanism possesses a clear constitution founded upon the Bible as primary, and the ancient creeds of the early church and the core faith of the Reformation as reliably interpretive of the word of God. Its failing over time has been its lack of discipline in curtailing the steady drift of dissent from its historic heritage to what amounts to a doctrinal 'free for all'. Extreme tolerance has led to turmoil and loss of a sense of central authority in Confessional integrity required of all pastors and teachers.

The breakdown in its order has caused many in the church to participate in an ungovernable state of doctrinal confusion, or in some other cases to seek a stronger form of institutional control such as is thought to obtain in Roman Catholicism where the insecure and uncertain may cling to tenets that are handed down by prescription without close examination.


Edward Norman was one of the most honorable, respected, discerning and academically proficient figures in the Church of England in the latter quarter of the 20th century. The anarchic condition of the Established Church concerned him greatly and he produced his survey and rueful conclusions in his study entitled Anglican Difficulties: A New Syllabus of Errors. This book is a devastating indictment of the hapless waywardness of the Church of England. Norman's assessment, looking back to its publication in 2004, is tragically prophetic, and the relevance of its views has greatly increased in our time as the features of his critique have only become more vivid through ongoing fulfillment before our very eyes. The author's report is still well worth close perusal.

Dr. Norman analyses the ills of England's national Church and pinpoints the fundamental absence of authority at the center of its ailing existence. " . . . the Prayer Book was the authority of the Church of England. . . The Prayer book is not just a collection of services, with some annexed articles and regulations. It is the authority, the only effective authority, for Anglican beliefs" (page 18). Its virtual extinction has ripped the heart from the body. Hence the number of consequent difficulties are frighteningly numerous as a crumbling institution in its confessional stance, and the conduct of its feeble ministrations, rapidly declines into a "secular" church, aimless and useless.

Edward Norman scans the Anglican scene from an Anglo- Catholic vantage point and has since transferred his allegiance to the Roman Communion following his severe examination of the Anglican debacle. "The Church of England has knowingly departed from its bond of union; and as the Book of Common Prayer slips away, lodged only in the fading memory of the old, and unknown to few beneath middle age, Anglicanism will find itself cast upon the sea without a compass. . . This is a pick-and-mix religion, and it corresponds to an ideology of individual choice which is new in the history of the Church" (page 19).

In his honest analysis of the corrosion of the Church of England Norman identifies the essential nature of Anglicanism, which of course, he would be unable candidly and personally to approve, (but none the less his identification of its historic character outlines for Reformed Protestants within the fold a way of recovery of integrity and usefulness for the cause of Christ.) "Anglicanism is almost willfully incoherent, and in its indecisiveness when confronted with differences of view or policy, and in its inherent tendency to compromise, its dissolution actually offers instructive insights into decades of postponed internal judgments and shaky accommodations. This, it must be noted, is in considerable contrast to its noble past and its once steadfast adhesion to its own tradition of Christian understanding. That was, it is true, a thoroughly Protestant tradition, as reference to the teachings in the Book of Common Prayer, in the Articles of Religion, and in the Homilies will make plain . . . the foundation theology of the Church of England is definitely Calvinist - compare the Articles of Religion with the Westminster Confession - (Page viii).

Confessional honesty and theological integrity require the acknowledgment of the essential Calvinistic character of Anglicanism. We do not need to be apologetic concerning that description. The term "Calvinistic" is not a pointer to Jean Calvin as the origin of Anglican soteriology but simply, as is the case with bulk of the Reformers, English and Continental - indicative of the fact that our church is the heir of the Augustinian and Pauline theological tradition that has prevailed in every era of Christian history. In this vital way Anglicanism is continuing in a tradition that has been present in the mind and ministries of the best and most prominent representatives of the convictions of the Ecclesia Anglicana (e.g., Bede, Alcuin, Bradwardine, Wycliffe, Colet, Bilney, Barnes, Tyndale up to the Reformers themselves. Our major Reformers of the 16th century were Calvinistic (proven by Augustus Toplady in Historic Proof of the Doctrinal Calvinism of the Church of England, and The Church of England Vindicated from the Charge of Arminianism, which claims are seconded by Bishop J.C Ryle, the essay entitled Toplady and His Ministry, The Christian Leaders of the Last Century) and hence our church's agreement with Jean Calvin (changing the term "Calvinstic" is simply to provide another target of abuse whatever alternative is chosen), who benefited from the influence of Augustine, Bernard of Clairvaux, Martin Luther, and Martin Bucer among others.

The Articles are definitely to be understood Calvinistically, for we know the convictions and intent of their authors (42 & 39). Their purpose was clearly confessional as their purpose was "to gain agreement'. Now that majority sentiment within the Anglican communion has shelved the Articles as museum pieces the most awful errant dogmatic opinions have swamped the vessel.

Edward Norman laments, "Heresy is an outmoded concept to many in the Church, and in secular opinion it suggests witch-hunts and extremism. Yet heresy is a reality, under whatever name it appears, and if the modern Church does not protect itself against error it will be overthrown by it. That task requires a clergy who are educated in doctrinal knowledge and who really do believe that Christianity is true. It is astonishing that it is now necessary to have to make that point at all" (pages 14-15).

The way of restoration for authentic or distinct Anglicanism - well defined - and the regaining of its central purpose of clear, bold, compassionate gospel preaching is to return wholeheartedly to the convictions of the Reformation. Declension from divine truth has led to the near death of the movement. Our case of decrepitude is urgent.


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