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Thoughts on the New Anglican Reformation

THOUGHTS ON THE NEW ANGLICAN REFORMATION
The following is the fifth in a series of essays on Anglican reformation

By Jon Shuler
Special to Virtueonline
www.virtueonline.org
December 15, 2019

Rebuilding Our Walls?

Many years ago, I was struck by the work of the stonemasons at work repairing the great Norman Cathedral in Durham, England. Some of them had been deployed to repair the wall surrounding the Cathedral Close, and I would walk by each day on the way to classes. They were only replacing the parts of the wall that had deteriorated, leaving the ancient stones that were still sound. The effect was to show the disparity between the aged stones and the new ones. To a young American it looked odd, since in the USA repairs almost always are designed to hide differences. The head stonemason said to me, when quizzed, "We only replace the rotten stones. It also leaves work for our sons someday." I have never forgotten that comment.

It relates to the project I am engaged in writing about. What are the parts of the Anglican Way that are in need of replacing? What are the parts of "the Anglican Wall," as it were, that are in need of being replaced? What stones have lasting service in them, and which ones need to be replaced now? What is the work of true "sons" today?

Some among us seem to think nothing needs replacing, so long as the "rotten leaders" are replaced. Some think old scores from previous disagreements need to be settled, then all will be alright. Others have long nurtured hopes for minor improvements on the ages. "Tuck here, let out there." There are few who seem to see the situation as requiring dramatic reformation. I am one. I believe we are in a season demanding significant reformation if the purposes for which God brought forth the Church of England are to again be front and center. Many parts of the wall are unsound.

The Lord of the Church faced such a time as this in his own day. Centuries after the call of Israel the leaders of the people had moved far from the founding purposes of God. Traditions had been overlaying the clear word of God with obfuscating complexity. Simple commands meant to be obeyed were skirted by elaborate exceptions. As in the days of the prophets, the Lord Jesus cried out to Israel:
This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men. (Matt 15:8,0 )

The same is true today.

Countless hours, and millions of dollars, are expended everywhere to reinforce the "Anglican Traditions," while place after place declines. Buildings are built and beautified, sizable staffs are assembled, multiple clergy are hired, yet in place after place growth stagnates or parishes decline. Battles in court continue, but true evangelistic advance is rare. Aesthetic beauty and grace are noticeably a part of our Anglican external life, but the "beauty of holiness" is much less obvious. Pomp and circumstance define Royal Weddings, but gospel truth is rarely preached to the nations in those ceremonies. Shameful pronouncements or prevarications are made from on high, and faithful "little ones" are stumbled. It was not always so.

In the 16th Century our fathers embraced the XIXth Article, which stated a clearly reformed doctrine of the church, then added:

As the Church of Jerusalem, Alexandria, and Antioch, have erred: so also the Church of Rome hath erred, not only in their living and manner of Ceremonies, but also in matters of Faith.

I believe the article should today be written to include "the Church of England." The consequence of that, if true, for her daughter churches must be faced.

When the gospel of Jesus Christ was first preached, ordinary men and women, responded in faith, some with their lives. When the Faith was shared by the men and women of the first centuries, others became believers. It was a daily occurrence. The Faith spread little by little throughout Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and then to the nations beyond. In time it came to Britain, and there it spread until all her islands and nations had embraced the Faith. Why?

There is only one answer to that question that will suffice: As the Lord Jesus had promised, the Holy Spirit was in and with them. The central truth of the coming of the Messiah to save all those who turned to him was spoken, and lived, with uncluttered clarity. The power of that reality changed lives then, and changes them still - as any missionary hearted Christian will attest.

Yet in England, Scotland. Wales, Ireland, Canada, the United States, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa - all those nations historically most indebted to the coming of the gospel to the ancient English Church - the number of true believers and faithful churches is in decline. What explains this?

To suggest that it is the fault of others, which all of us who note these trends are inclined to believe, is to remain in darkness. We have all sinned and gone astray like lost sheep. While saying otherwise, we have served that which is not God. We are in love with a heritage. We are enamored of our traditions. We are often in bondage to our pride and arrogance, our sense of Anglican identity, as many of us secretly imagine ourselves to be the church that is the true one. We think ourselves to be an example to others, and judge them, when we are under the same condemnation. God help us.

The irreducible truth is, of course, that God desires to come to our aid. We will find him when we seek him with our whole hearts. He stands ready to purify this part of his bride and restore us to a place of honor among his children. But only if we will return to him with a true heart and intention to be cleansed and reformed.

How far back then must we look to see the ancient truths that are still in this day the central reality that must be preached and lived if the churches of the Anglican Family are to flourish again? What parts of the structures our ancestors have built are capable of standing the fire of judgement? (I Cor 3:10-15) Certain it is, that anything not built upon "Jesus Christ and him crucified" will perish. But is that foundation securely in place? Or, if it is, is it so obscured from the eyes of ordinary unbelievers that they neither see it nor could understand it if they did? Do our current structures (our "Anglican Walls") aid or impede the spread of the kingdom of God?

Let us turn to the first centuries of the coming of the gospel to ancient Roman Britain, and ask if there are answers to these questions, and lessons for us now?

THE APOSTOLIC FOUNDATION & THE PRE AD 597 ERA

One of the historical facts, indisputably revealed to all who look at the details, is that no one knows how the gospel came to Roman Britain. The church just appears from the mists of time. It was planted without any known pioneer missionary or organized plan. Like the spread of a fruitful vine or fruit bearing tree, the natural intention of the Creator was fulfilled in hiddenness. Some unknown man or woman first shared their faith with another on that soil. Life begat life. Soon there were small communities of believers. As people worked and prayed, others came to faith. The Final Command of the Risen Lord: "Go and make disciples of all nations" was obeyed by them. They understood what we have lost, that the life of Jesus truly lived is irrepressible. It cannot be hidden. It is "the light of the world", and many in the world will come to that light - if it is seen in authentic simplicity among ordinary believers. It requires nothing more, however helpful some other things may be.

The Acts of the Apostles reveal clearly the pattern by which the gospel always spreads, whether by the coming of an apostle and his companions or by the coming of two or three unknown believers. What has happened in Jerusalem is told. The crucified Messiah is preached. What is known about the Lord Jesus and his teaching and ministry is shared. The truth of the gospel of salvation is proclaimed, wherever possible. Some believe and are baptized in the sacred name. The first believers are taught to gather and pray on the Lord's Day. Leaders are discerned and prayed for. The outlines of true faith and morals are laid down clearly. Soon, the pattern is repeated in another home or village. The church, the living community of believers, spreads.

This is undoubtedly what happened in Ancient Britain, almost certainly within the First Century. The only foundation that could be laid was laid: "Jesus Christ and him crucified." Because that foundation was first in place a church that could last was built. A church that has not yet been completely overthrown. A church meant to withstand the gates of hell.

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Jon Shuler is an Anglican priest who lives in South Carolina. Since 1994 he has given global leadership to NAMS (New Anglican Missionary Society) a church planting community serving on every continent. He is also Executive Director of AAi (Anglican Associates, inc.) a ministry focused on training church planting leaders. He holds a PhD in Church History from the University of Durham, Durham, England. He was made a Canon Missionary of the Diocese of Sabah by the late Bishop Albert Vun. His weekly blog "Canon Fodder" is found at joncshuler.wordpress.com

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