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Predestination is an essential mark of Classic authentic Anglicanism.

By Roger Salter
Special to Virtueonline
www.virtueonline .org
December 2, 2022

Currently Anglicanism is an indeterminate entity. Its historical essence has ebbed away. Its amorphous condition dictates that the term "Anglican" is merely a label adopted by disparate religious groups who claim the title but who share no unitive structure theologically, liturgically or ethically, whose only common factors are derivation from the See of Canterbury and the practice of Episcopal church government. Apart from these things, incidental but not crucial to the nature and role of the Church of God (for there are other valid affiliations of Christian believers and witnesses to the Gospel) the reference to an Anglican Communion (mutuality) is a misnomer. Anglicanism has jettisoned its heritage that held it together. The family is fractured. The flock is scattered. Throughout the sad and feeble remains of former worthiness the true shepherds are few and the continuing membership is ailing for want of wise guidance and the spiritual nutrition of the Word of God. Declension is universal, and so-called resurgent Anglicanism in multiple guises leaves much to be desired. The marrow of Anglicanism has not yet been firmly grasped.

Edward Norman in his publication Anglican Difficulties observes, "This, it must be noted, is in considerable contrast to its noble past and 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 Church of England began to re-invent itself in the nineteenth century as a 'branch' of Catholic and Apostolic tradition: an initially unconvincing enterprise, since the bishops of the day rushed into print to deny that they were the successors of the apostles, or that their Church was other than thoroughly Protestant. The balance of the argument must be in their favour since the foundation of theology of the Church of England is definitely Calvinist -- compare the Articles of Religion with the Westminster Confession of Faith" (page v111, Morehouse Publishing, 2004).

Two comments could be made at this juncture: First, the term Calvinism is not specifically a citation referring to Jean Calvin himself but a catchword for whoever any advocate of predestination may be, or any source consulted. John Calvin learned predestination from Holy Scripture and many redoubtable theological predecessors. Second, J.I.Packer remarks in his volume Concise Theology, "My frequent quoting of the Westminster Confession may raise some eyebrows, since I am an Anglican and not a Presbyterian. But since the Confession was intended to amplify the Thirty-nine Articles, and most of its framers were Anglican clergy, and since it is something of a masterpiece, "the ripest fruit of Reformation creed-making" as B.B. Warfield called it, I think I am entitled to value it as part of my Reformed Anglican heritage, and to use it as a major resource" (page xiii, Tyndale, 1993). Dr Packer once humorously quipped that we Anglicans lent the Westminster Confession to our Presbyterian brethren. It waits to be reclaimed, one thinks.

Edward Norman adds another comment that is worth mentioning: "The genesis of Evangelical revivalism at the end of the eighteenth century suggested no threat to the Church of England's unity, for it occurred within a general consensus about the Protestantism of Anglicanism" (page xi). Hence George Whitefield could write, "You know how strongly I assert all the doctrines of grace as contained in the Westminster Confession of Faith and in the doctrinal Articles of the Church of England. I trust, I shall adhere to these as long as I live; because I verily believe they are the truths of God, and because I have felt the power of them in my heart" (Letters, page 515). "The doctrines of our election, and free justification in Christ Jesus, are daily more and more pressed upon my heart. They fill my soul with a holy fire, and afford me confidence in God my Saviour. Surely I am safe, because put into his mighty arms. Though I may fall, yet I shall not utterly be cast away. The Spirit of the Lord Jesus will hold, and uphold me" (Letters, page79).

Two key eras in Anglican history, surely the very best, were powered by heartfelt subscription to the biblical doctrine of divine election - namely, the Reformation when our theological principles were established, and the Great Awakening when our creed was wonderfully adapted to effectual soul winning evangelism. The former movement founded the precepts of our faith, the second preached them with amazing power. The Church of England has been most effective when energized by the tenet of election and encouraged by confidence in the absolute efficacy of grace. The preacher knows that the message proclaimed will always achieve its aim (Isaiah 55:9-11).

In his magnificent exposition of the cross, Leon Morris commences his treatment with the basic fact of election. "Salvation is a reality. It is a reality because God can and does bring it about. References to the 'elect' (Mt 24:22, 24:31, Mk 13:20,22, etc. or to being 'chosen' (Mt 22:14) also point to God's saving act. Men do not elect or choose themselves. There is in the meaning of the words the thought of the divine initiative. Unless God chooses to intervene and make some men his own, none will ever be saved. There is a tendency in some recent writing to minimize the significance of election. It is not surprising that, in a man-centered age, some writers put their emphasis on what men may be expected to do. The term may be retained, but its meaning tortured out of all recognition. It must be insisted upon that the gospels speak of an election in which God, not man, is sovereign." For his thesis Morris musters the support of Baptist Old Testament specialist, H.H. Rowley, who "reminds us that the doctrine of election 'would seem to be fundamental to the thought of the Bible in both Old and New Testaments' (The Biblical Doctrine of Election, London, 1952, p.15). Of church members in the New Testament he says, 'They were not men and women who chose to be Christians, or who of their own initiative decided to attach themselves to the Church, but men and women on whom the constraint of God had been laid, who were chosen in Christ and redeemed by him, and who in individual loyalty had responded to that grace and pledged themselves without reserve to the obedience of their Lord'" (op. cit., p. 170). Leon Morris, The Cross in the New Testament P.19, The Paternoster Press, 1967).

The foregoing quotations from Morris and Rowley indicate that it is logically inevitable that election should emerge and gain our attention at the very outset of our contemplation on the divine plan of salvation. Election is not an obscure topic but fundamental to an understanding of the saving purpose of God. Redemption, as a divine determination, is most definitely "Accomplished and Applied", to quote the title of John Murray's consummate case for the success of sovereign grace. This conviction is built into the character of Anglican thought and proclamation, which is solidly Scriptural and interpretively Augustinian. Whatever the influence of various Continental Reformers may amount to, Anglicanism drew its appreciation of effectual grace from the teaching of Augustine [Paul said it; Augustine read it] and the supportive testimony of the followers of the bishop of Hippo Regius across the generations from Europe and Britain whose activity preceded the Reformation.

Anglicanism is Augustinian and it found allies and encouragers in the pre-eminent Augustinians of the Reformation movement whether we think in terms of speculative percentages with regard to Luther, Zwingli, Bullinger or Calvin. Augustinianism was abroad and it was strengthened on home soil where it was faithfully upheld by Bede, Alcuin, Anselm, Ailred, Bradwardine, Wycliffe, Rolle, Hilton and Colet whose influence could not have been entirely erased.

T.H.L. Parker in his biography of Calvin writes, "Calvin's doctrine of predestination first appeared in its developed form in the 1539 Institutes, although it had been present as a constant presupposition in the first edition. It was not original and J.B. Mozley can even say: ' I see no substantial difference between the Augustinian and Thomas, and the Calvinist doctrines of predestination . . . Those who suppose that St Augustine differs from Calvin in his doctrine of predestination, do not really know the doctrine which St Augustine held on the subject'. Mozley is right in general; and Calvin himself supposed his doctrine to differ from Augustine's not at all" (P, 133, John Calvin, Lion Publishing, 1977).

Anglicanism thoughtfully worked through its positions theologically without haste or mere imitation of existing authorities, and it was Cranmer especially, who guided the Ecclesia Anglicana forward with fervent prayer, careful consultation with colleagues and reputable scholars, and cautious deliberation. Cranmer pondered the most desirable foundation for the English Church, and he prepared it diligently for the ages ahead with aspirations that circumstances prevented from being fully met. But one thing was very clear to the Archbishop of Canterbury and that was the abiding witness of the reformed church to the principles of the Solas i.e. Faith Alone, Grace Alone, Scripture Alone, summed up together beautifully as Christ Alone. All salvific blessings arise from election in Christ [Ephesians 1:3-14] and Cranmer was intent on securing the national church in the conscious reliance upon the indomitable will of God as Diarmaid MacCulloch remarks: "His theology was structured by predestination" (All Things Made New, p. 276, Oxford University Press, 2016).

Predestination is an essential mark of Classic authentic Anglicanism. It endues our message, ministry and mission with enormous thrust in our love of truth and neighbor. We are frail, weak, and variable in our efforts but God's purpose of mercy and restoration of humankind to himself will prevail infallibly. We may both strive and rest in his strength and certainty of accomplishment (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). We will be taking God at his word without compromise; the compromise that has affected our effectiveness for too long. As Diarmaid MacCulloch observes concerning predestination it is, "a theological concept which Anglicanism has on the whole decided to treat with caution" (op. sit. 276). Such caution and fear of criticism has eroded our loyalty to the Word of God. Anglicanism is often shy of going full distance with the clear teaching of divine revelation and heaven's instruction. We could have no better guideline to the proper and pastoral treatment of Electing Love than the superb statement delineating our belief on this matter - our matchless Seventeenth Article.

Bishop Ryle opines that, "No part of the Christian religion has been so much disputed, rejected and reviled as this. None has called forth so much of that enmity against God which is the grand mark of the carnal mind. Thousands of so-called Christians profess to believe the Atonement, salvation by grace, and justification by faith, and yet refuse to look at the doctrine of Election. The very mention of the word to some persons is enough to call forth expressions of anger, ill-temper, and passion (p 462, Old Paths, Banner of truth, 1999) . . . "First of all let me entreat every reader of this paper not to refuse this doctrine of Election, merely because it is high, mysterious, and hard to be understood. Is it reverent to do so? Is it treating God's Word with the respect due to revelation? Is it right to reject anything written for our learning, and to give it hard names, merely because some misguided men have misused it, and turned it to bad purpose? These are serious questions. They deserve serious consideration. If men begin rejecting a truth of Scripture merely because they do not like it, they are on slippery ground. There is no saying how far they may fall" (p.472).

The general state of Anglicanism in our day is pitiable beyond description. Our rejection of truth is serious. Even professedly Evangelical folk balk at giving full credence to the Word of God in the areas of human wickedness and helplessness and the absolute sovereignty of God. As a result we have fallen to the brink of apostasy in large sectors of our denomination. Canterbury and York gravely mislead us. May Almighty God deign to deliver us.

That it may please thee to illuminate all bishops, priests and deacons, with true knowledge and understanding of thy word; and that both by their preaching and living they may set it forth and show it accordingly.

We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord. From the Litany

The Rev. Roger Salter is an Anglican priest serving at St. Matthew's Anglican Church in Birmingham, Alabama

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