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By Roger Salter
June 6, 2017

Inspired Scripture and Augustinian interpretation are the underpinnings of a wholesome Anglicanism. Scripture is the basis without doubt. But Scripture must be deciphered. Accurate interpretation is a donation of the Spirit of the Lord. God grants to his church individuals of various measures of understanding. Spiritual giftedness opens the Word of God to human understanding privately, and for public pastoral office. Some plough deep that others may reap. They are folk scholarly and pious who give a lead in insight and who are appointed to guide the faithful. Some are enabled to excel in deriving the essential message from Scripture (human salvation) with clarity and consistency that convey "the ring of truth" to those inwardly attuned to and taught by the Lord, who brings home to them the precious sense of authenticity. "They shall all be taught by God" (John 6:45).

The Israel of God, under the new covenant, is enabled to identify its genuine prophets and a consensus develops as to those who are worthy of most attention. No human spokesman is perfect or exhaustive in the knowledge of divine revelation. Each has their limitations and blind spots. None grasp comprehension of the Word through their own effort or acumen. What they perceive, they by grace receive. By divine ordination some are groomed by God to the stature of eminently reliable witnesses. The early Fathers each had a vision of aspects of the gospel and a grounding of some kind in the theology of the Lord and and his apostles. In those early days there was much ground to cover and a vast range of truth to discover.

Only time could confer sufficient maturity to the Christian mind through creeds and confessions and arduous scholarship carried forward by humility before God and reliance upon him. In those first centuries many bright lights shone in the illumination of the church east and west but none matched the glow, the brightness of Augustine the pre-eminent doctor of grace. The church is the hospital for those broken by sin. Augustine prescribed so well the medicine of divine mercy, sovereign, effectual, and free.

Our Reformation was founded in Scripture and found a great thinker and instructor in Aurelius Augustine.

German/Swiss Augustinianism

The ministry of Martin Luther began in an Augustinian monastery. With the general spiritual declension of his times monasteries were not necessarily healthy environments for the good of the soul. But through all the trouble and anxieties of his quest for a merciful God Luther benefited from the oversight and pastoral care of his wise superior Johann Staupitz who magnified the grace of Christ in his firm doctrine of election, so central to his effective scholarship and pastoral skill. Many other influences came to bear on Luther's stress on justification by faith alone, elicited primarily from Scripture, but assisted from a confluence of Augustinian streams of thought: Bernard ( the sweet efficiency of grace), Tauler (the intimacy of union with God), Huss (the immediacy of access to God).

Luther's legacy to the church universal is incalculable and his contribution to the breakthrough of the gospel in England and the reshaping of the Ecclesia Anglicana immense. His literature enlivened the faith of multitudes, read or taught, and discipled principal patrons of the liberated Word - that first phalanx of the soldiers of the cross (including Anne Boleyn) who stood gallantly for grace versus merit in the matter of acceptance with God, some of whom were fastened to the fiery stake for their faithfulness (Robert Barnes, John Frith, Thomas Bilney, William Tyndale, and more). Luther at the earliest stage of the English Reformation molded the minds of its leaders (Cranmer especially) with his teaching on grace and faith and his imprint remains in our BCP version of the Litany, the Catechism, and our Articles X Free Will (The bondage of the will - the title of the book he most wished to survive him), XI The Justification of Man, XVII Of Predestination and Election (the truth of the doctrine and the pastoral care in presenting it).

Phillip Melancthon succeeded Luther as the leader of the Lutheran cause - the Preceptor of Germany. A great and good man Melancthon's theology gradually slipped from the Augustinian orthodoxy of his master. Highly respected by the movers of the Reformation it is apparent that he lacked the ruggedness and resolve of Luther in times of controversy. William Cunningham hints at a certain disdain for the Preceptor's timidity that led to a flaccidity of attitude toward the doctrines of grace in Lutheranism and to a droopiness in doctrine in some quarters of the Church of England.

The spirit of Melancthon wafted across the channel. "There can be no doubt that an unscriptural longing for peace and unity - for there is such a thing, springing, of course, not from pure Christian love, but from the infusion of some carnal and worldly motives and influences, or from mere natural temperament - has, on a variety of occasions, led to corruption and compromise of God's truth, on the part both of individuals and churches" (William Cunningham, Melancthon and the Theology of the Church of England, The Reformers and the Theology of the Reformation, Banner of Truth, London, 1967, page 157) The entire essay is virtually essential reading for any Anglican concerned for the fortunes of Reformational Anglicanism in our time, and warns of the Melancthonian tendency already among us and corrosive of a bold confession. We need to abide by the principles of Richmond, Scott, Newton, Whitefield, Romaine, and Toplady.

Legh Richmond, author of the popular tract, "The Dairyman's Daughter", an account of conversion derived most likely from his pastorate at Brading on the Isle of Wight (the church still displays stocks, used for the public punishment of criminals, in its grounds on approach to the entrance), also edited volumes of a historical set of works entitled The Fathers of the English Church. Cunningham comments that this compilation of the writings of Henrican Reformers, "gives us the works of Frith, Barnes, Lancelot Ridley and others, who were confessors and martyrs under Henry, who are on every account deserving of the highest respect and esteem, and who have left behind the unequivocal evidence that they had embraced the whole substance of the theological views of Augustine and Calvin"(Cunningham page 151).

Melancthon is regarded as a synergist, as is John Tauler. But both men appeal strongly to the divine initiative in the human reception of grace and are responsible for statements that almost place them in the Augustinian camp, or at least close to its edge. The lapsed Melancthon is clearly nervous of the double decree and eager for its avoidance, contending for the notion of a truly personal, non-robotic response to the divine call, and Tauler with his emphasis on the indwelling Christ almost ascribes the event of conversion entirely to the action and virtue of the Christ within who can pervade and dominate the inclinations of the personality, and who is indeed the ground of all godly choices.

Effectual calling does not deny the personal freedom of the individual wrought upon by the Holy Spirit, for it is an enabling call liberating the will from servitude to evil and hostility to God. Regeneration makes folk new in the adoption of holy affections and the love and adoration of the Lord. Monergism is no slight on mercy but an apt description of unwanted, undeserved divine favor that effects a new creation, not simply a shift in disposition achieved by the co-operation of man. Grace alone achieves the transformation from darkness to light, death to life. Distinguishing grace creates a freed will. The unregenerate will is rescued from bondage to sin and bent towards God by powerful divine persuasion.

Ulrich Zwingli, from his base in Zurich, also exercised a beneficial influence upon the program of reform in England by drawing Cranmer and others away from a Lutheran comprehension of the Lord's Supper. He was the first of the Reformed theologians and a firm Augustinian on the primacy and sovereignty of grace. Alex Ryrie in his recent, much lauded volume entitled Protestantism gives the impression of a slap-dash scribbler in moments of erroneous appraisal and brusque, unfavorable opinion. It is claimed in his book that Zwingli had no appetite for predestinarian conviction whereas the great Swiss leader embraced divine election heartily and thoroughly in his theological belief and writing. Zwingli's successor Heinich Bullinger is also credited with distaste for the doctrine of predestination whereas with due pastoral sensitivity he crafted his genuinely Augustinian pronouncements with care and moderation moving close to Calvin in clarity as time progressed. Calvin noticed the caution of Bullinger but admitted his approval of the man and opined that Bullinger "was with him".

Bullinger, Vermigli, and Martin Bucer each individually determined the theology of Anglicanism as much as Calvin. Bucer was the senior figure and mentor among the famous four. The former Dominican bestowed confirmatory and cogent Augustinian sentiments upon his friends, and as Professor of Theology at Cambridge and as a colleague of Cranmer, Anglicanism theologically and liturgically inherited much of his doctrinal conviction and mildness of character. Bucer was an untiring advocate of biblical orthodoxy, Augustinian understanding, reverential worship, and Christian unity wherever possible in integrity of mind and heart. He felt himself sparingly used in England but wrote his greatest work, The Kingdom of Christ, while in residence in that country.

Anglicanism is a composite entity, truly the possessor of Jewel's reasserted genuine Catholicism as opposed to Romanism (An Apology of the Church of England), and Anglicanism is fully and worthily an expression of the core convictions of the Reformed faith. Many eminent handprints are deserving of inclusion in its "Cloister of Christian Repute". In the firmament of Christian obedience and endeavor Anglicanism has greatly added to the cloud of witnesses to the gospel of Christ. When the bishop hands the Bible to a newly ordained servant of Christ it is inscribed with the reminder that that person is ordained "to the office and work of a Priest in the Church of God".

Ideally perceived, for our times raise grave issues of orthodoxy and integrity, Anglicanism is a section of the Church of God and never the sum or summit of Christian believing and behavior. It is a partner with other traditions in the cause of God. It is a sharer in the doctrinal and devotional inheritance of the saints. It is a beauteous and satisfyingly edifying pathway to the knowledge of the Lord, life in his service, and guidance to the goal of heaven.

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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