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Give me More Than Evangelical

Give me More Than Evangelical

By Chuck Collins
June 22, 2021

Years ago Tom Howard wrote Evangelicalism is Not Enough about his journey from evangelicalism to liturgical Christianity. Evangelicalism is clearly not enough, but it's not "liturgical Christianity" that matters (as much as I love our Book of Common Prayer). The sameness of liturgy can make us feel good, but if our basic human problem is deeper and theological, liturgy at best can express that theology, and at worse it will give us a momentary comfortable feeling that actually keeps us from the real thing - a right understanding of God and his relationship with his creation that saves and heals us. It's not some kind of religious formalism that we seek, but rather the theological grounding in the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church, and the faith "once and for all delivered to the saints." This was the heart beating in Reformation Anglicanism, the Edwardian and Elizabethan settlement of the Church of England. The historic Anglican formularies gave voice to certain 16th century convictions about Scripture, righteousness, and universal priesthood that are all but lost in the modern use of the word "evangelical."

Being evangelical used to mean viewing the Bible as God's unique, inspired revelation (sola Scriptura), but in some evangelical churches today the Bible is one part, a subordinate part, next to the authorities of tradition and cultural relevance. Being evangelical originally meant a commitment to the central teaching of Scripture: justification by grace through faith alone. But today it includes those who give a larger voice to "our decision for Christ," and pulpit admonitions to moral improvement rather than announcing Christ who lived and died to fulfill all righteousness. Being evangelical once meant an enthusiastic commitment to the priesthood of all believers and the succession of apostolic teaching (2 Tim 2:2), but today it is also describes those who anoint hands at ordinations infusing priests with magical powers to bless, and to a tactile apostolic succession that imparts a priestly character, making ministers just a little nearer to God than normal Christians. Evangelicals at the time of the Reformation had differing views of "real presence" in the sacrament, but they were in agreement about the necessity of a faithful appropriation of the grace offered in Holy Communion. Today in Anglicanism 101 classes across America, the transformation that is taught is the change in the elements of bread and wine to be the body and blood of our Lord, rather than transformed hearts and affections of those who receive the grace of the sacrament by faith.

What is lost in the confusion about words and definitions is nothing less than the gospel. It is completely possible (even probable!) that you can go to an evangelical church and hear a thoroughly biblical message about what we can and should do for God, and never once hear what God in Christ has done for you. That's bad news - who can ever do enough! It's conceivable that the preacher will preach moral obligations ending the sermon with a prayer for the moral improvement of the congregation and never get to what St. Paul described as the delivered message of first importance (1 Cor 15:3). It is altogether conceivable that your evangelical church is living under the cloud of obedience, spiritual exercises, and doing more for God that never points to Christ who lived, died and rose from the dead as our substitute to bring us from death to everlasting life. If what we hear is "do more for God," how does this fit in with Jesus's invitation to the weary and burdened to come to him for rest (Matt 11:28)?

The modern inclination is to stroll through our five-hundred-year history (really 2,000 years!) picking and choosing from the buffet of different movements, trends, and theological aberrations to fit our personal tastes. But that road is disastrous! The church that stands for nothing will fall for anything, and this explains the near-death experience of the Episcopal Church, the theological confusion of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), and other churches that have moved away from the unyielding topography of historic Anglicanism. This question is always before Anglicans and Episcopalians: if our tradition is not defined and guarded by the traditional Anglican formularies as confirmed over and over again in our history, then where does innovation stop? Evangelical may be the big circle of what is going on in Anglicanism today, but the smaller circle in its center is "Reformation Anglicanism" that anchors us in the authority of Holy Scripture that is found in the Thirty-nine Articles, the Book of Common Prayer (including the Ordinal), and the two books of Homilies.


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