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A WASTED HERITAGE?

A WASTED HERITAGE?

By Roger Salter
Special to Virtueonline
www.virtueonline.org
January 31, 2019

In its primal form Anglicanism beautifully represents a balanced blend of the catholicism of the ancient creeds, the tradition of Augustinian thought throughout the centuries, and the common confessional stance of the Protestant Reformation. Emerging from the basis of faith in Holy Scripture as the sure word of God Anglicanism has adopted and adapted that wealth of pious liturgical tradition clearly consistent with Scripture as a worthy and edifying vehicle of worship and devotion formulated by the godly acuity and genius of Thomas Cranmer with assistance and advice from his own countrymen and the great Christian minds of the European Continent. Anglicanism has gleaned a rich spirituality from the various ripe fields of Christian understanding and veneration of God available from broad historical surveillance and prayerful evaluation. It demonstrates and endorses a commendable ecumenicity.

In the century of its origin the reformed Church of England happened to be the most orthodox and noble expression of the catholic faith (as discerned by Elizabethan apologist John Jewel), indeed a church appreciative of the past, undergoing purification in the early years of its development, and establishing stability in orthodoxy for the future. Its foundation was sound and its direction was always toward a gradual and closer adherence to the will of the Lord as revealed in his Word.

The basis of Anglicanism was sturdily Biblical. The tradition it established was to be derived from Holy Scripture and the leading of the Holy Spirit. In all its reason and behavior, custom and action, it sought to be guided as much as humanly possible by divine revelation. Theology and preaching, worship and pastoral care, apologetics and polemics, were to be governed by the mind of God influencing and acting upon the ministry and life of the community of believers. Christ was to be commended and extolled by the Spirit of the Son of God residing in his servants. The church was to be God centered. The world was to be urgently and cogently recalled to him in the faithful witness of believers.

Throughout its checkered history Anglicanism has usually been able to return to even keel by appeal to its written code of allegiance to Scripture, adherence to the gospel of grace, and attachment to revealed theology and doctrine declared in its Articles of Faith. Its unified mode of liturgical worship proffered a certain elevation of the mind toward God. The customary language of the church was direct, definite, and dignified. It was attractive and affective. Every feature of reformational Anglicanism coalesced to impart healthy conviction, effect true conversion, and bring all believers to maturity though godly discipline and wise pastoral care. Anglicanism exuded gravitas combined with charitableness and gentleness, all in equal measure. It commanded respect in its demeanor and conferred compassion through its ministry of the means of grace. Always in Anglicanism there was some area of credibility in which to place confidence. That possibility is very doubtful today.

The Anglican scene is scarcely a shadow of its former identity in its ability to promote faith in and fealty to God. It is a shambolic entity, shattered in its credo, shambling in its policy and practice, and shepherd-less in its upper echelons of authority and leadership. Those principally responsible for its wellbeing have veered away from the conservation and communication of its vital and venerable heritage. At first slowly, but now swiftly, folly and error erode the precious bequest accumulated on our behalf by saints and sages of former times. Irresponsible wastefulness and superficiality vitiate the soul and strength of the Church of England, and other provinces within the communion have already and notoriously committed spiritual suicide.

The chasm between Anglicanism past and Anglicanism present is vast. There is no Golden Age in the history of the Church but there have been better eras. There are no perfect saints or infallible theologians to appeal to, but there are men and women of sounder spiritual sense to consult and from whom we may beneficially learn as to how to trek in the paths of God in thought, veneration, and obedience.

Our inheritance is not irretrievably lost, except to the makers of mischief. It is still intact if only we would turn to it. The Treasuries of the King may still be opened, his secrets disclosed, if we were disposed by the Lord to seek out the worthies of the past, reflect upon their wisdom, and take up their basic guidelines afforded to us in the vade-mecum encapsulating our constitutional character. The Book of Common Prayer 1662 must always be available in regular usage and commended to all devout Anglicans. Revised liturgies and statements of faith may be of value if they remain carefully faithful to the historic deposit, but in genealogical concern we ought always to be of the same blood and bravery of our founders and friends in the true knowledge of God.

The latest turns in thought (or thoughtlessness) ought not supplant the bounty accessible to us in our received legacy of fine literature, uplifting liturgy and the whole body of lore that informs our collective memory. The value of the literary "largesse" assembled by by our Christian predecessors is immense. A sense of the benefits of resorting to and communing with the eminent people of God of earlier times may be derived from John Ruskin's public address extolling classic secular writings - the now charming essay entitled Sesame and Lilies. Ruskin brings deceased authors of great eminence to life. Mulling over their pages we meet them at their very best state of mind and at the peak of their insight through their most thorough, pure and refined process and expression of thought. In this way we may get closer to them than through personal physical encounter or probing interview. We Anglicans have a "cloud of witnesses" always hovering in near proximity waiting and eager to impart the secrets that God has spoken to them for our contemplative benefit.

Christian study and meditation amounts to a godly obligation. It is hard to defy the distractions of worthless small talk and pointless conversation in which we frequently engage in casual moments of encounter with others. It is difficult to forgo the ever-present pap of cheap entertainment and the temporary attraction of "mere tracts" (bound up as books) of transient relevance (Ruskin's expression), as opposed to the eternal truth conveyed by great Christian thinkers and teachers in their labors over the sacred text of Scripture. The intrusive media blocks out the art of meditation and rumination, the which obstruction actively contributes to the current immaturity of the human mind. "The world is too much with us", and its deception and false values are channelled into our brains by light-headed, commercially motivated, fraudulent, so-called "Christian "purveyors of absolute disposable refuse that lights up our TV sets and lines the bookshelves of popular bookstores. We shall never be strong enough for the ordeal ahead. The essence of authentic Anglicanism needs to be recovered. Nor should we omit the "grain of Geneva", a handy term for summing up the broad spectrum of Augustinian theology resurgent throughout the 16th and 17th centuries along the banks of both the Tiber and the Thames. Many eminent figures of the Roman church were Augustinian as well as the advocates of reform.

The Bread of Life (taken up in believing the actual "on page" biblical description of the Lord Jesus himself and trusting the New Testament witness free of manufactured skepticism and subjective criticism), the fruitful pondering of the choicest saints from every era, and their honest findings from a 'felt faith" - if the Lord disposes us to earnestly revisit them - would greatly reinvigorate a famished Anglican Communion and give it strength to stand for truth again. Reconnection with our heroic past would banish the current effeteness of the timid, flaccid, pathetic creature Anglicanism has become through worldliness, infidelity, and aimless leadership. The face of Anglicanism is pitiable in our time. Has its condition ever been this woeful and its gospel influence so weak and lame?

A host of former outstanding Anglicans were folk of valor. Many now at our forefront are characterized by vapidity. Their utterances are insipid. Nothing about them or to do with them can compare with the makers of our strong ancestral Anglicanism. May it never be a totally wasted heritage.

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