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Reformational Anglicanism: Laying It All Out

Reformational Anglicanism: Laying It All Out
"Anglicanism" is beset by mass delinquency on a vast scale.

By Roger Salter
Special to Virtueonline
July 4, 2017

Anglicanism faces a crisis of identity. The very term "Anglicanism" itself conveys nothing definite concerning doctrine, practice, or aim. In contemporary and practical terms Anglicanism is a shapeless, amorphous, confusion of irreconcilable notions and tendencies huddled together, disagreeably and contentiously, under a banner that can mean nothing specific, or even anything at all, as anyone (inanely and insanely) chooses. The term "Anglicanism" is an utterly unhelpful and totally misleading umbrella term as to actual essence and is, therefore, deservedly discardable.

Canterbury is passe as a focal point, many provinces are in disarray, and the average parish is virtually pointless as a conveyor of saving Christian truth. The heritage that once held everything together, at least Confessionally speaking - even if that Confession was ignored - has been sold out except in rare instances.

Edward Norman in his disturbing but accurate summary of contemporary "Anglicanism" and its plight (Anglican Difficulties: A New Syllabus of Errors, Morehouse, 2004) defines our problem as lack of authority. His is a devastating, and daily fulfilled, critique of a lumbering and collapsing, once credible, ecclesiastical entity. The book merits close and prayerful scrutiny. It is honest and irrefutable in its assessment of ailing "Anglicanism". It is worthy of quotation in full and so it is a strongly recommended purchase.

"In this new book I shall try to show ways in which the Church of England has, because of problems in its very nature, revealed how unprepared it is to face the ideological challenges of the times. Much of what is suggested may apply to other Churches; but Anglicanism is almost willfully incoherent, and in its indecisiveness when confronted with differences of view or policy, and its inherent tendency to compromise, its dissolution actually offers instructive insights into decades of postponed internal judgements and shaky accommodations. This, it must be noted, is in considerable contrast to its noble past and its once 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 reinvent 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 favor since the foundation theology of the Church of England is definitely Calvinist - compare the Articles of Religion with the Westminster Confession - . . . (page viii).

"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 inherent Protestantism of Anglicanism" (page xi).

Anglicanism: a body without definition, since it sidelined its teaching authority, the Book of Common Prayer, in the second half of the twentieth century; a body uneasily held together by equivocation and paper compromise; a body, furthermore, with little idea where it is going, in the increasingly alien cultural circumstances of modern society.

The Church of England does actually have a faithfully preserved deposit of orthodox Christian doctrines - its problem is that it does not tech them (page xii).

Whatever other issues Edward Norman addresses (and he became RC) he has clearly and irrefutably established the historical origin and authentic orthodoxy of genuine "Anglicanism" - a term of high church coinage.

So many elements bewilderingly foreign to "Anglican orthodoxy" have now come into play within our Communion that we are a movement "by heresies distressed" - almost everyone, seemingly, citing "their own truth" amounting to myriad falsehoods, deceits, sophistries, and evil fantasies, and pursuing preferences markedly at odds with Holy Scripture, the pure Word of God. Revealed Christian morality is repudiated. Sexuality is perverted by permissiveness toward sodomy and other forms of gender irregularity, and the ordinance of marriage debased by advocacy of same sex union - absolute "no-go" areas according to Holy Scripture. False faiths are embraced as of equal validity with the holy faith of the Triune God. It is not only that which is published or proclaimed that is shocking, but also that which is privately discussed or secretly promoted in opinion and permission.

"Anglicanism" is beset by mass delinquency on a vast scale. Secular and near pagan permissiveness has replaced Christian propriety with astonishing rapidity and audacity. The orderliness of Cranmer has been overcome by chaos and confusion engendered by liberal theology and sinful license. Anglicanism is no longer a check on that which is illicit in belief and behavior but an accessory to sexual impurity and doctrinal incorrectness. It is soiled, spoiled goods, accountable for so much contamination of the faith in rogue branches such as the U.S. and Canada, perhaps New Zealand and other fast declining provinces in terms of avowed allegiance to a noble heritage.

Until recently the major breach within Anglicanism was between Geneva and Oxford - the centrality of Scripture or subjection to sacramentalism, Protestantism or Puseyism. Of the latter J.H. Merle D'Augbigne comments, "Men highly respectable for their knowledge, their talents, and their moral character are to be found among these theologians", who according to the The British Critic, an organ of the Oxford party, sought to "unprotestantize the Church". In response to the rise of Ecclesiastical Catholicism in the nineteenth century our distinguished French observer of trends in England stated the principles of Reformation and Patristic Christianity: The Word of God only; The Grace of Christ only; The Work of the Spirit only. "These are the three great beacons which the Holy Spirit has erected in the Church."


According to one of the chiefs of Ecclesiastical Catholicism, who was soon to embrace Roman Catholicism, "The Scriptures are evidently not, according to the principles of the Church of England, the Rule of Faith. The doctrine or message of the Gospel is but indirectly presented in the Scriptures, and in an obscure manner" (Tract 85). "Catholic tradition (unwritten) is a divine source of knowledge in all things relating to faith. The Scriptures are only the document of ultimate appeal; Catholic tradition is the authoritative teacher" (John Henry Newman, Lecture on Romanism). How contrary to the Church of England Article on Holy Scripture: "The holy Scriptures contain all that is necessary to salvation, so that all that is not found in them, all that cannot be proved by them, can not be required of any one as an article of faith or as necessary to salvation."


D'Aubigne declares, "That is to say, the Christian receives salvation only by the grace of Christ, and recognizes no other meritorious cause of eternal life".

He continues: "The British Critic calls the system of justification by grace through faith 'radically and fundamentally monstrous, immoral, heretical, and anti-Christian'. 'The custom which has prevailed,' say again, these divines, 'of advancing, on all occasions the doctrine of Justification explicitly and mainly, is evidently and entirely opposed to the teaching of the Holy Scriptures' (Tract 80). And they condemn those who make 'Justification' to consist in the act by which the soul rests upon the merits of Christ only'" (John Henry Newman). "It is against this system that I have spoken" says E.B. Pusey. How markedly at variance with our precious Article on Justification: "We are accounted righteous before God, only for the merit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ by Faith, and not for our own works or deservings: wherefore, that we are justified by Faith only is a most wholesome doctrine, and very full of comfort, as more largely is expressed in the Homily of Justification".


D'Aubigne observes: "Christianity is an individual work; the grace of God converts soul by soul. Each soul is a world, in which a creation peculiar to itself must be accomplished. The Church is but the assembly of all the souls in whom this work is wrought, and are now united because they have but 'one Spirit, one Lord, one Father'. And what is the nature of this work? It is essentially moral. Christianity operates upon the will of man and changes it. Conversion comes from the action of the Spirit of God, and not from the magic action of certain ceremonies which, rendering faith on the part of man vain and useless, would regenerate him by their own inherent virtue. 'In Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision, but [to be] a new creature.' 'If through the Spirit ye do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.'

'Now the Oxford divines, although there is a great difference among them on this point, as well as on some others (some by no means going as far as others), put immense obstacles in the way of this individual regeneration . . . They do not set out with the principle laid down by the Saviour: 'Except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God;' but they set out with this opposite principle: 'All those who have participated in the ordinances of the Church are born again.' And while the Saviour, in all his discourses, excites the efforts of each individual, saying, 'Seek, ask, knock, strive to enter in the strait gate; it is only the violent who take it by force;' the Oxford divines say, on the contrary, 'The idea of obtaining religious truth ourselves, and by private enquiry, whether by reading, or by thinking, or by studying the Scripture or other books . . . is nowhere authorized in the Scriptures. The great question which ought to be placed before every mind is this: 'What voice should be heard like that of the holy Catholic and Apostolic Church?'" (The Critic).

Referring to Reformational Evangelicalism, Advertisement in vol. 11. Tracts for the Times, it is stated, "The essence of the sectarian doctrine is to consider faith and not the sacraments as the means of justification and other evangelical gifts."

"Without doubt," D'Aubigne continues, "we believe that the sacraments are means of grace; but they are only so when faith accompanies there use. To put faith and the sacraments in opposition. . . is to annihilate the efficacy of the sacraments themselves."

The tendency of Oxford is to elevate both the sacraments and the Church institutionally above the emphasis given them in Holy Scripture and to diminish the effectual immediacy of faith in Christ for salvation and living communion with him. (One can never forget the comment that John Bunyan should not be read for Christian edification because he was outside the Church). "There is nothing, absolutely nothing upon which we can build the hope of our salvation but the free and unmerited grace of God, which is given to us in Christ, and communicated by faith" (Doctor D'Aubigne).

Eventual Archbishop of Canterbury John Bird Sumner (1780-1862) concluded, "I cannot but fear the consequences that a system of teaching, which confines itself to the external and ritual part of divine worship, while it loses sight of their internal signification and the spiritual life, may have upon the character, the efficacy and the truth of our Church."

Resurgent Anglicanism today is claimed to consist of three equally valid streams cobbled together by the merger of three different sets of Christian faith as if this is something brilliantly new, i.e. Evangelical, Catholic, and Charismatic, meaning that the Communion possesses and pronounces the Word of God, benefits from the sacraments instituted by the Lord Jesus, and enjoys and exhibits the life-giving presence and power of the Spirit. But this notion of the 'three streams' is a false, artificial, and unnecessary construct. There is no need to vainly endeavor to unite the three separate streams in a single confluence as if something marvelous has been achieved by present day resourceful Anglicans (three cheers).

The church founded on and derived from the Gospel, citing the creeds, is already, inherently, and inevitably composed of these indivisible elements, such is its essential nature, donated and guaranteed by the headship of its divine author who forms it and operates through it. The liturgy of Cranmer establishes that our Reformational church is based on the word, administers the sacraments, and is indwelt, directed and empowered by the Holy Spirit. Like a river glorious (bed, hydrogen, oxygen) the church characteristically combines Word, Sacrament, Spirit in its intrinsic existence.

The three stratum or layers to be noted of a true church have been indicated by D'Aubigne: The truth of the Word; faith in Christ; regeneration and sanctification by the Spirit. "Thus", he remarks, "the Evangelical divines of our times give the hand to the reformers, the reformers to the fathers, the fathers to the apostles; and thus, forming, as it were, a golden chain, ..."

To depart from any item in our triadic system of Reformed doctrine is to actually effect an exit from genuine Anglicanism. It is true that various other trends in theology coalesce nominally under "brand Anglicanism" but they are deviations, often clearly acknowledged, from its constitutional norms. The right of devotees of this assortment of alternative views to profess themselves Christian is not denied. That adherents of alternative persuasions may be in union with Christ is not contested. But to be at variance with the Reformed symbols of Anglicanism is to be at odds with the very heart of its historic tradition. Anglicanism, as it now stands, is more inclusive and flexible than the terms of its Confession would allow.

Scholars, clergy, members of other churchmanships, have undoubtedly made significant and invaluable contributions to Christian insight and understanding and have achieved much in fostering wholesome and mature spirituality as true companions in the fellowship of Christ. Who cannot appreciate the Ramseys, Mascalls, Marshalls of the Church of England for whom there is deserved honor and affection?

Clearly, relationships in the present inclusiveness of Anglicanism must be brotherly and cordial between those of orthodox (in the sense of credal) conviction and sentiment (this happens frequently in cherished personal relationships). But unity of teaching and outreach as a body can hardly be attained in the co-existence of Evangelical and Catholic observance unless there happens to be a radical, heart-searching, hard thinking coming together in a thoroughly developed Biblical and Reformed Catholicism that breaks with the distinctive aberrations and lingering elements of Romanism in thought and practice.

Full gospel convictions cannot be bridled in the interests of polite compromise. In the process of harmonious purification of Anglicanism, Protestantism in some areas may be hindered by its limitations and prejudices imposed by sharp reaction to the manifest abuses of the past, and Catholicism will need to trim away its numerous excesses in ritual and clerical garb, the latter, these days, verging on the comedic when you examine the unflattering appearance of some who resort to such extravagant cladding and unnecessary costume.

Richard Hooker was right to conclude that many mislead by the errors and superstitions of the medieval church, innocent in their dependence upon their clergy and sincere in their trust of what they knew of Jesus, were to be accounted as true children of God and heirs of the kingdom. But subsequently doctrine has developed in accuracy and clarity and reversion to unreformed principles and practices is culpable sin in the eyes God.

"If the Church [Anglican] is to avert destruction or self-dissolution, and be purified and expanded, it will only be by returning again to the generous spirit of its reformers, to their larger and truer catholicity, and to their noble fidelity, amid so much greater difficulty and danger, to the principles of the Reformed Church" (William Hastie, Theology of the Reformed Church, T. & T. Clark, Edinburgh, 1904, Page 96).

"A renovation of the Church is necessary I know it, I feel it, I pray for it from the bottom of my soul; only let us seek for it in the right way. Forms, ecclesiastical constitutions are important, very important. 'But let us seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things shall be unto us'" (D'Aubigne).

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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