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The Integrity of Biblical Anglicanism: Catholic and Reformed

The Integrity of Biblical Anglicanism: Catholic and Reformed
Classical Evangelicals are prepared to go where Scripture leads without prejudice and resentment. The authoritative Scriptures also lead us to embrace the Reformation

By Roger Salter
April 21, 2018

Definitions of Anglicanism are legion and in the majority lean towards a disturbing vagueness of expression. The matter of definite doctrine is hardly at the core of these extremely unsatisfactory descriptions that speak of "ambience", "spirit", "inclusivity", "tolerance", "moderation", etc. etc. Anglicanism, on all fronts, has a tendency to drift into compromise on extremely vital issues.

A major problem for Anglicanism - as it is - is its comprehensiveness and excessive allowance of diversity in churchmanship from Anglo-Catholicism, Liberalism, Radicalism, through to numerous shades of Evangelicalism i.e. Classic, Open, Neo, Charismatic, and so on. Anglicanism - as it is - is a cuckoo's nest for every species of Christian or sub-Christian conviction and opinion. The problem with Anglicanism is its wideness and wimpishness, and even more sadly, in our time, its brazen waywardness.

As a Communion, Anglicanism lacks a coherent message, a coordinated and credible presentation, so much so that its creed is not a body of firm belief but a collage of confused and conflicting notions deprived of the force of central authority. It is human inventiveness and untrammeled, arrogant reason give free range in the area of religion to the point of irreligion. Anglicanism institutionally, and in terms of leadership, largely lacks integrity as a Christian denomination. It has lost its prophetic role. It has forfeited credibility. By casting away its Reformational foundations it has lost its usefulness to the kingdom. Anglicanism is a shameful mess. It is a house without family unity. It is a fudge factory. What is required is a powerful divine renewal through rediscovery of its Biblical Basis. Its disobedient diversity strangles the possibility of genuine and unified gospel proclamation that is clear, unequivocal, and saving. The crisis in Anglicanism is a crisis of right doctrine.

It is from sound doctrine that Anglicanism will derive and conserve safe tradition in the form of orthodox faith and orthopraxy. The only safe source for sound Christian doctrine is Sacred Scripture (not unverified tradition). It is not unusual within Anglicanism (so-called) for the plain sense of Scripture to be disputed or denied as such - clear and incontrovertible in its meaning. Straight-forward biblical statements may be artfully tweaked or even firmly rebutted.

It is imperative above all else that Anglicanism must be, and prove itself to be, as Biblical as it is humanly possible to be, for a gathering of saints (struggling) and scholars (ever learning) blighted by the handicap of naturally limited, blind, and sinful minds in our quest for a sufficient knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ as Redeemer and Ruler. The believer's call is to know and represent Christ in a world alienated from him, and the only reliable access to the Savior of men is through the testimony of prophets and apostles recorded in the Scriptures.

Traditional, Conservative, Orthodox Christianity is determined by the listening ear harkening to the witness and mental instruction (illumination) of the Holy Spirit through the truth of the Word of God. The foremost vocation of the Church of God is to be "a witness and guardian of Holy Scripture" (Article 20). In view of this high and privileged calling the Article continues "yet it is not open to it (the Church) to prescribe anything contrary to Scripture, or to enforce anything not found in Scripture to be believed as necessary to salvation" - nor should the Church omit any detail of Scripture necessary to assured salvation (denial of revealed essentials).

Anglicanism at its best listens to the voice of the Lord wherever it has sounded, principally and infallibly in the Bible. But it pays attention also to the echoes of the divine voice in the human utterances of holy and godly persons, learned in Scripture and sanctified in life, who are enabled skillfully to repeat and accurately convey the speech of the Lord in terms sufficient for the salvation of awakened and seeking souls. Our Reformers of the 16th century paid heed to and embraced the Biblical creeds and convictions of the patristic age sifting through its teaching and testimony in comparing it cautiously with the written Word of God.

Cranmer and his colleagues possessed and employed a highly competent scholarship in the realm of the thought and instruction of the fathers and, where justified, they recalled the people of God of their generation to the orthodoxy of the early church. Anglicanism is firmly grounded in the faith of the Early Church. It is rooted in the early tradition that endeavored to witness to and guard the apostolic deposit of truth. Biblical Anglicanism is historically creedal and Catholic.

This loyalty to ancient faith was equally the aspiration and definite resolve of the Continental Reformers from whom the English Reformers derived much theological learning, spiritual benefit and practical assistance. The Ecclesia Anglicana, turning from the falsehoods and impurities that tarnished the Church of their time, inevitably and joyfully joined the brotherhood of Reformed churches, and this was achieved Confessionally in The Articles of Religion (nothing less than a pattern for uniformity of belief and proclamation). The Reformational credentials of the Church of England were cordially and heartily acknowledged by fellow members of the expanding Reformed community intent on the restoration of pure doctrine.

It is clear from their reading, writing, and preserved statements that the English Reformers were far from being innovators, that they were, indeed, steering their nation back to the Bible, back to the simplicities of the early church, and into the light enjoyed by the many souls and minds of those, with whom they were greatly familiar, from previous generations who were endowed bountifully with the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ before the dawn and progress of reformation. Citations from a host of saints from former times are plentiful or plethoric in the best sense of the word. Classical Anglicanism is well aware of the divine favor upon certain sectors, and eminent leaders in Christian thought and piety, within the jurisdiction of the Church of Rome even in its darkest times. It traces the line of true discipleship from the Upper Room even to the ranks of Low Churchmen who minimize ritual, ostentatious ecclesiastical display, and gaudy vestments, but maintain a high view of Jesus Christ and lodge their humble trust in him.

The Reformation was a restoration of Scriptural truth to its original clarity and the re-burnishing of the ancient faith to its original brightness as treasured by saints who adorned the church's beauty well before the 16th century. Protestant and Reformational Anglicanism is the purified version of orthodox Catholicism as is proven by John Jewel's Apologia pro ecclesia Anglicana. There is nothing new in Cranmerian Anglicanism except for the joy of the rediscovery of pure evangelical teaching and worthy worship of God according to his self-revelation. The Reformation conferred freedom on Christian man, removing from him the medieval burdens of things extraneous to Christian faith and manifestly unnecessary (even hindering it) for salvation placed upon anguishing souls by a darkened and deviant papal institution.

The disparagement of Reformational thought and piety by some within the Anglican fold - as it is - is immensely regrettable and without warrant. Avowedly Augustinian Anglicanism is of the essence of the Anglican movement refined of erroneous content. It is not an alien system imposed upon the Church, an invented ecclesiastical tradition, but an honest and sound elucidation of the sense of Scripture consonant with Catholic faith and Continental reform embarked upon by men of sanctity, scholarliness, and sincerity, who, deeply and thoroughly nurtured in the traditions of Rome, came to see the urgent necessity of Scriptural purification and collaborated in "the cleansing of the temple" for the glory of God and the good of his people. Our Confession was drafted largely by the good and godly Thomas Cranmer (who certainly does not deserve relegation to minor status by those who regard the Reformation as a calamity) and rearranged and endorsed under the theological guidance and pastoral wisdom of Bishop John Jewel (student of Vermigli, ex passionate Catholic and mentor of Hooker) in 1563 It is hard to imagine which elements should now be eliminated from the Articles, when measured against Scripture, in order to facilitate certain foreign emphases within the Anglican fellowship which hark back to times less informed by Scriptural principles (revived and resurgent in Tractarianism)

To exercise critical thought with regard to what is, and what is not authentic Anglicanism is not equivalent to pronouncing who is Christian and who is not Christian. It is simply a matter of Confessional integrity, and the existence of the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion is proof enough that Anglicanism is Confessional, or why would Archbishop Laud insist upon the removal of Archbishop James Ussher's Irish Articles in favor of "the Thirty-Nine" in the Protestant Church of Ireland? It was a matter of the English Confession of Faith superseding the Confession of Faith of the Irish Protestant Church.

An Evangelical Anglican will readily admit indebtedness to the saintly and scholarly witness of many an Anglo-Catholic, especially those who do not sideline the witness of believers of other persuasion and invalidate their ministry (e.g. the generous Michael Ramsey, Michael Marshall, Eric Mascall). Noble Christian work and witness is performed by numerous folk of Anglo-Catholic ilk. That is indisputable. But to be candid, within the Anglo-Catholic circle there is a very notable disparagement of Thomas Cranmer and the reckoning of the Reformation as a "bad thing" and, therefore, a detectable sense that Classical Evangelicalism is a stranger in Anglicanism and a non-heir of the Faith of the One, Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.

The dubiety of many Anglo-Catholic convictions, characteristics, and claims is obvious to one who has worked in partnership within Anglo-Catholic situations and with valued Anglo-Catholic colleagues (parish work in a stronghold of the Cowley Fathers). There are lessons for Evangelicals in general to learn, certainly- the Church as an ancient entity to be cherished and served disinterestedly; the Presence and operation of the Holy Spirit in every era of the Church's existence; the value of tradition derived from Scripture and godly minds that are well versed in the word of God: a pervasive reverence for God at all times and in all things.

These things are not unique to Anglo-Catholicism, nor consistently observed among its adherents, but we all need to be reminded of the duty and beauty of holy living and the cultivation of a meditative frame of mind that constantly concentrates upon God in the practice of his Presence. Evangelicals need the gravitas of mature faith in the Lord, and Biblical Anglicanism, along with other worthy traditions clearly have the God-given resources for the cultivation of Christian sobriety and sensibility (one has heard that John Bunyan was unacceptable because he did not belong to the One, True Church). Evangelicalism in its popular guise does lack depth and "grown-up" discernment. On the other hand it can be clearly seen that certain Anglo-Catholics are personally unrelated to God due to the mere formalities of religion to which they steadfastly adhere and the over-reliance upon the externals of ritual and sacramental performance. We all exhibit a debit side in the religion the heart.

To ever attain unity between Anglo-Catholicism and Classical Anglicanism seems highly unlikely (though Pusey was an Augustinian to a degree), but we participate in Anglicanism - as it is - as our shared spiritual home. In this situation we must maintain integrity of conscience and humility (a Bishop Weston of a recent generation, active in the West of England, during an Ordination Retreat, informed attendees that he had come to a strong appreciation of the ecclesiology of John Calvin, and it is Calvin and like-minded thinkers who have contributed so much to the structure of the Church of England in its witness and worship. Our Articles and Liturgy are wonderfully Augustinian via Master Cranmer).

Classical Evangelicalism is not confined to a narrow stream of allegedly deviant thought concocted in the 16th century. It embraces truth wherever it is found. It advocates breadth but acknowledges boundaries defined by divine revelation.

Interviewed in 1976 J.I. Packer stated ". . . there are many Biblical topics on which the best work has been done outside confessional Reformed circles. On, for instance, the incarnation, or the Trinity I find that there are what seem to me, to be real insights and magisterial performances outside the Reformed tradition from which I am very happy to learn. Many theologians in the unreformed traditions of Christendom - Romanism and eastern Orthodoxy - have labored in these areas and see things in the light of the Bible no less than Reformed folk do."

[On a personal note, one's closest ever companion in ministry and spiritual direction was an Anglo-Catholic who reveled in Scripture and graciously received a volume of Jean Calvin as a gift].

Classical Evangelicals are prepared to go where Scripture leads without prejudice and resentment. The authoritative Scriptures also lead us to embrace the Reformation.

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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