Thursday, June 03, 2010
By Robin G. Jordan
I have a friend who grows heirloom tomatoes in her garden. They are tomatoes like those our great, great grandparents may have grown. They are not like the tomatoes that you buy in the supermarket. There is nothing like them, freshly picked from the vine, still warm from the sun. To me Anglicanism, that peculiarly English conservative form of Protestantism, which is the faith of the reformed Church of England, is like those heirloom tomatoes. You can grow all kinds of hybrid tomatoes. Large ones. Small ones. But nothing beats the heirlooms for flavour.
The faith of the reformed Church of England is eminently Biblical. Article VI declares, “Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not required of any man, that it should believed as an article of the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation.” Anglicanism does not look to any other authority beside God’s Word. The Bible is its sole rule of faith. It is the test against which all doctrine must be tried. Anglicanism does not prescribe anything that is contrary to God’s written Word or expound one passage of Scripture in such a way that it disagrees with another. It does not resort to dodgy logic, subtle arguments, and other tricks to convince people that the Bible says what it does not say.
At the same time Anglicanism is open to fresh light from God’s Word. As Bishop Stephen Neil once said, “Show us where the Scriptures teaches it and we will teach it.”
The faith of the reformed Church of England is eminently practicable. Rather than despising the old and devising everything anew, Archbishop Cranmer retained the old where it could be well used. He reformed the Calendar to make it more edifying—holding up the lives of the Apostles as “wholesome examples and patterns to the flock of Christ” as well as telling the story of our salvation. He took the old prayers of the Latin service books, translated them to English, revised them, and gave us a Liturgy in which “nothing is ordained to be read, but the very pure Word of God, the holy Scriptures, or that which is agreeable to the same; and that in such a Language and Order as is most easy and plain for the understanding both of the Readers and Hearers.” He provided services for all the major occasions in our lives. He also gave us an Ordinal that emphasizes that bishops and priests are first and foremost ministers of the Word, called to shepherd and teach Christ’s flock and to protect them from “all erroneous and strange doctrine contrary to God’s Word.” Cranmer drafted a set of articles of the faith, “agreeable to the Word of God,” which would in the revised form of the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion become “The English Creede,” “the Rule of Faith…of every English Christian,” the sum of the doctrine of the reformed Church of England, and the confession of her faith.
In the reigns of Edward VI and Elizabeth I two collections of homilies were compiled for priests who were not licensed to preach. These homilies explain the doctrine of the reformed English Church and the duties of Christians. They were written by Thomas Cranmer, John Jewel, and others. Early in Elizabeth’s reign a Catechism was composed by Alexander Nowell, Dean of St. Paul’s, at the request of Convocation, and sanctioned for general use in the English Church.
The faith of the reformed Church of England is eminently reasonable. It does not require of a Christian anything more than the Scriptures require of him. It does not seek to bind his conscience where God’s Word does not. It does not demand that a Christian to deny his senses and believe that the Bread and Wine of the Holy Communion are the actual substance of the Body and Blood of Christ who, having ascended bodily into heaven, sits at his Father’s right side, or that a man, having been baptized, is regenerate even though his life offers no evidence that he is spiritually born again. It does not require bishops, priests, and deacons to take vows of celibacy or to abstain from marriage.
A lot of folks do not see the value of growing tomatoes that their great, great grandparents may have grown. Why grow an old variety of tomatoes when they can buy all kinds of new varieties at the seed dealer? Why even grow tomatoes when several of the latest varieties can be bought in the supermarket?
An heirloom may be one or more moveable possessions that go with a house or other real estate. An heirloom may also be a piece of personal property that has been in a family for generations. An heirloom may have intrinsic value of its own. Great, great grandmother’s silver baby rattle may be a collector’s item for which an antique dealer would give his eyeteeth. Or it may have only value to the family. A battered old King James Bible containing the dates of the births, baptisms, marriages, and deaths of family members going back several generations is likely to have little value to outsiders.
Heirloom Anglicanism has both kinds of value—intrinsic and sentimental. Its intrinsic value is that for generations it has been a means through which God has drawn the English people and other people groups to himself. Through the services of the Prayer Book folks have heard the words of Christ and hearing have come to faith. The Articles, the Prayer Book, the Ordinal, and to a lesser degree the homilies have shaped their faith and the systematic reading and exposition of the Bible and the regular administration of the sacrament of Holy Communion have nourished it.
To some Anglicans heirloom Anglicanism has sentimental value but they have lost sight of its intrinsic value. They are like a family attached to great, great aunt Ada’s collection of silver apostle spoons but they have never taken the trouble to obtain an appraisal of their worth. Some future member of the family is likely to give them away on a whim, not realizing their value.
As the Anglican family has grown and more outsiders have become a part of the family, the number of those who cherish the faith of the reformed Church of England has shrunken. Some who call themselves Anglicans no longer regard that faith as a family heirloom to bequeath to posterity. They do not see its intrinsic value, and it otherwise holds no value to them. They are prepared to relegate it to some dark, cobweb-filled corner of the attic or even put it in the dustbin. They cannot understand why other family members think that it is valuable and worth passing on to the next generation. They may have brought into the family other heirlooms that they believe are much more valuable.
Among those who do not value the faith of the reformed English Church in North America, we find two groups. The first group is apt to say, “We are American, not English. We declared independence from England in 1776. We have been independent of the Church of England since that time. What do we have to do with the reformed Church of England? We have our own Prayer Book tradition. We have our own Articles.” My reaction is, “Great! But why do you insist upon calling yourselves ‘Anglican’?” “And why are you throwing away the better part of your own heritage?”
The second group appears to be only too willing to sell their birthright for a mess of pottage. The faith of the reformed Church of England means so little to them that they gladly exchange it for the gewgaws of ritualism, the false freedom of liberalism, or the spiritual thrills of Pentecostalism. Rather than despising the birthright of all Anglicans, the truth may be that they may have never learned to treasure it. Being new to the family and having sat under the wrong teachers, they may have never been taught to appreciate its value.
Summer is the season for heirloom tomatoes. Some people eat them with fresh cream. Health conscious-folks like myself are likely to eat them as they are or sprinkled with a little extra virgin olive oil and chopped fresh basil. Heirloom Anglicanism has no season, or put more accurately, it is for all seasons. Heirloom tomato plants bear fruit in the summer. But heirloom Anglicanism bears fruit all year round.
If you have not tasted an heirloom tomato, you have missed a treat. If you have not experienced heirloom Anglicanism, you have missed a whole lot more. If you are lucky, you may find heirloom tomatoes at your local farmers’ market. Or a friend may share the bounty of his or her garden with you. Otherwise, you may have to buy a few plants from your seed dealer and grow them yourself. They are best planted in the spring and require plenty of sunlight and water and tender care. But they are worth it. If you cannot find a heritage Anglican church in your area, in which heirloom Anglicanism, the faith of the reformed Church of England, is not only treasured but also transmitted to the next generation, you may have to start one. The best time to plant it will depend on the area. You may want to talk with those who have started churches in your area. In some areas people are gone for the summer; in others winter’s snow keeps people at home. Like heirloom tomatoes, it will be need to be planted in the full light, the light of the Son. Like heirloom tomatoes it will need to be watered frequently—with God’s Word and prayer. It will need to be cared for tenderly, with the same tenderness that God has shown us. As with heirloom tomatoes, we may plant and we may water, but God gives the increase.
May God give unto you “good measure, pressed down and shaken together, and running over.” May you give the glory unto Him.
Posted by Robin G. Jordan at 2:49 PM