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Pacesetters of Anglican Protestantism: Part 3 of 4

Pacesetters of Anglican Protestantism: Part 3 of 4

By Roger Salter
Special to Virtueonline
February 13, 2015

The current Church of England, and the majority of its offspring, constitute what may be described as a seriously flawed and wayward component of the Reformed family of churches. The ancient catholicism of England, Celtic in its origins and Latin in its development, was purified in the 16th century by a resolute return to Scripture, the best elements of the thought of the Church Fathers, and a re-affirmation of the foundational creeds. Anglicanism, as it eventually came to be known, participated in the Continental ecumenical drive towards a rigorously renovated biblical confederation of saints throughout Europe. Three streams (the ones that matter) converged to create the Cranmerian style of reform, Lutheranism, Zwinglianism, and Calvinism, and the ultimate outcome was the famous but radically misunderstood via media - the middle way between Wittenberg and Geneva (pace Moorman: see articles Wallace and Harp, Anglican Way Vol. 38 No 1, Jan 2015).

The British blend was a potential basis for the unification of Reformational Protestantism, as it still is if ever restored to due prominence. "The ecclesiastical ideal of its reformers was to make the Church of England the living centre and rallying point of all the Reformed Churches; and if its leaders and guides were to take up this splendid conception again and endeavour to realize it, they might be blessed in doing the greatest work for the Reformed Protestantism that the world has seen since the age of the Reformation" (Theology of the Reformed Church, W Hastie D.D., T. & T. Clark, 1904). This "conception" is in line with Cranmer's well advertised but unfortunately denied desire to participate in a pan-Reformational consultation with all the leading Protestant scholars of the period.

The domination of Augustinianism in the Reformed Church of England for its first seven decades since the breach with the papacy is a delight to witness, the gradual decay thereafter is a tragedy of immense proportions. Anglicanism took a downward slide into ritualism, moralism, semi-Pelagianism, Arminianism, synergism of every hue, and a pot-pourri of desiccated and redundant notions and attitudes that enervated its once stout Gospel character beyond recognition and belief. The clergy of the English novel from Austen to Howatch are a miserable lot and their ilk continue as stooges and bumblers in English situation comedy. Gradually the heroes departed, not entirely, but how many spectators of 19th century English church history could add a dozen names to that of John Charles Ryle? Writing of the Italian protestant "libertine" and mathematician Jacobus Acontius in his superb biography of Edmund Grindal, Patrick Collinson closes his chapter Calvinism With a Human Face with the following comment: "What Acontius could not have foreseen (and within two years he was dead, not long after the publication of his Stratagems of Satan) was that the tolerant latitudinarianism and advanced adiaphorism of which he was a lonely advocate would have a more secure future in the Church of England than Calvinism, even the Calvinism with a human face which characterized Edmund Grindal (page 152).

Mercifully, our Reformers laid a sound foundation to which we may return and upon which we may continue to rebuild when Anglican sanity and thirst for Scripture are revived, should God deign to bless us and bestow his Spirit of Truth upon us.

The principal voices of the English Reformation were in unison as to the fundamental importance of predestination to a full orbed annunciation of the message of grace. There were moderates such as Hooper, who shadowed the cautious Bullinger in his views, and Archbishop Parker. Latimer was a little light on theology but a genuine Augustinian, and Cranmer was unflinching in his subscription to the doctrine even if he was careful not to make it a snare to members of the populace who may possibly misconstrue its meaning (as folk still do). Article 17 is the perfectly balanced statement of what we would now identify as the Calvinist position. The Augustinian principles are patently clear and the pastoral touch is wise and tender. Grindal was only one of a galaxy of English bishops and scholars who majored in presenting Calvinism with a human face.

It is astonishing to note the sweetness of our Anglican forbears in an age of brutality. The combination of strength and pastoral gentleness of our foundational documents compiled in the Book of Common Prayer is a fetching phenomenon in the lives of a meditative readership. Everything is designed to wrap the penitent believer in the comfort of communion with a holy and healing God.

There is vast contemporaneous testimony to the enormous talents and kindness of John Bradford, scholarly tutor to the clergy and close assistant of Nicholas Ridley when Bishop of London. The prison papers and conversations of this remarkable man disclose a rare humility and courage in the face of his inevitable martyrdom. He was gracious indeed to friend and foe. Christ captured his soul and controlled his tongue in his indefatigable preaching of the Gospel. Though never a primate he was a prince among them, and worthy of highest office and grateful remembrance. No one sought the conversion of sinners and the welfare of the church more avidly than Bradford but he could read the trends of the times with unerring accuracy and timely warning. Concerned about the rise of Pelagians and "free-willers" during the period of his imprisonment he wrote to his colleagues Cranmer, Ridley, and Latimer incarcerated at Oxford: "The effects of salvation they so mingle and confound with the cause that if it not be seen to, more hurt will come by them than ever came by the papists - in so much that their life commendeth them to the world more than the papists . . . . They utterly contemne all learning" (The Reformation in England, Sir Maurice Powicke, Oxford1961).

John Bradford took care to leave a precious theological legacy to the church of the future - ourselves - and he took care to anchor his thinking in electing love, as did his comrades to a man. It is important to note that authentic Anglicanism had a spine but dozy bishops and droopy leadership over far too long a time have rendered us supine. Our inspiration is withering away. Predestination produces pep because it points to purpose in God, in mankind, and in life, and it stimulates resilience.

Augustus Toplady also took care to exonerate the Church of England of any blame for Arminian sentiments and convictions. In two magisterial tomes of theology he provided the evidence of Protestant Anglican orthodoxy and in both his "The Church of England vindicated from the charge of Arminianism" and "Historic Proof of the Doctrinal Calvinism of the Church of England" he supplies reams of material and copious quotations from our history and its leading actors to secure the fact that true Anglicanism squares with Augustine and his junior partner Jean Calvin.

It is disingenuous for anyone to make any attempt to interpret our Articles in contradiction of the known beliefs of their authors. They were never intended to be merely an optional reflection of the theological concerns of the age of their composition that could subsequently be discarded. Every minister ordained to preach the gospel within the Church of England was required to subscribe to them in a confessional and fully evangelical sense and not to depart from them. Only laxity in ecclesiastical integrity undermined their authority, and the studied indifference towards them has created a different church under the original label, as it were - different ingredients under the same religious brand. It is a deceit, as recent false starts toward a resurgence of genuine Anglicanism in North America have proved. Sovereign grace generates gumption and supplies stamina. When the persecuted faithful were travelling by the cartloads to prison, torture, and even the termination of their lives, they begged Calvin to elucidate the doctrine of predestination.

"The mature Cranmer was a predestinarian", comments Diarmaid MacCulloch. "Within the developing Protestant tradition to which Cranmer was now contributing, predestination was a necessary corollary of the thinking of Martin Luther on grace and faith, and it was already one of the root assumptions of the main reformers of central Europe (especially Martin Bucer and Peter Martyr) before Calvin assumed his dominant role among the Swiss" (Thomas Cranmer, page 211, Yale University Press, 1996). The extent of the influence of Messrs Bucer and Martyr upon Cranmer personally, and upon the character of Anglicanism is variously assessed, but one suspects that it was great, and it reinforces the solid Augustinian root of our tradition.

The genius of Cranmer, and the communion of which he was the principal inspiration, is the skill in which predestination is oriented to the great comfort of the believer. Election is in Christ as our covenanted Head (not on the basis of anything present in or done by ourselves, actual or foreseen, nor on the grounds of getting ourselves "into Christ" by our own free will as some cunningly assert) and its reality and realization is to be read only in Him as he is revealed in the Gospel to the hopeful heart. No one is encouraged to "claim" election or boast of it, as alleged concerning Daniel Defoe. We are only exhorted and entitled to rest in Christ on the basis of the Promise. For the individual to speak of "his or her election" is to parade a repugnant attitude of presumption. Always, whatever our state, we are merely believers bidding others to join us. Calvinism can attract the bully boys and the arrogant who like to associate themselves with the divine supremacy and omnipotence as a license for their bad behavior, but that is the fault of human pride that pollutes everything it touches, even the most hallowed things of God (biblical and sacred history reveals this vile tendency in abundance), but the doctrine of election, grasped within the limits of its Scriptural enunciation, is testimony to the invincible power of divine love and its triumph over resolute rebellion. Let us bless God that he overcomes our suicidal unwillingness.

The confidence of the believer, knowing our susceptibility to self-deception, is more usually expressed as "I trust so" rather than "I know so" (see the Ordinal on the sense of ministerial vocation). As the apostle Paul avers, "For I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day (2 Timothy 1:12 NASB). There is a subjective certitude that avoids ego-inflated certainty that airs itself in a repulsive way. As C.S. Lewis observes grace makes the people of God courteous in their demeanor, and as Ashley Null recognizes concerning Cranmer's increasing awareness, "At last grateful love clearly flowed from gracious love" (Thomas Cranmer's Doctrine of Repentance, page 243, Oxford, 2010). On page 246 Dr Null continues, "Cranmer made repentance the focus of his theology and liturgy. . . . To ensure that justification was also sola gratia, he adopted God's predestination of his elect and shaped his public writings accordingly. Repentance as the expression of a loving faith was interpreted as a sign of justification and election which assured the believer of his salvation . . . . In this way, repentance was also the pastoral, practical expression of predestination, enabling Cranmer to offer assurance of election to the saints and at the same time to encourage all people to be obedient to the laws of God and the king. Thus through the promotion of repentance rightly understood Cranmer sought to enshrine salvation sola fide et gratia in the formularies of the Edwardian church".

If repentance is the felt foundation of our assurance (who feel the working in themselves of the Spirit of Christ: Article 17) there is no room for the arrogance that is often alleged - in an exaggerated way - to be the mark of Calvinism (repentance is self-abasement), nor is there room for the over-speculative preoccupation with the divine decrees as seen in the somewhat chilling diagram of William Perkins and the daunting theology of Herman Hoeksma. Election comes to us with practical solutions that address our responsibility. The anxious must cry to God for repentance, which is required of us all, and pledged to those who seek in sincerity, and we are not to peer into the matter of personal election behind the scenes, or without the lens, of the gospel consolations. The decrees are unchangeable but we are to plead for change within ourselves according to the unfathomable mercy of God. We are helpless yet not without hope in the fact that God is good. As J.I. Packer assures us, "The reprobates are faceless so far as Christians are concerned, and it is not for us to try to identify them. Rather, we should live in the light of the certainty that anyone may be saved if he or she will but repent and put faith in Christ. We should view all persons that we meet as possibly being numbered among the elect (page 151, Concise Theology, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, Wheaton, Illinois, 1993). "The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners" (1 Timothy 1:15, comfortable words indeed).

Anglicanism is entrusted with the message of the strong, sweet grace of God, but we have weakened deplorably in our convictions. May we reclaim the honorable heritage of our Reformation fathers before the dire predictions of our future are fulfilled.

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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