Wednesday, June 23, 2010
A Heritage Anglican Replies to Bishop Ackerman’s Call for a New Oxford Movement
By Robin G. Jordan
First Roman Catholic Cardinal Walter Kasper and now FIFNA Bishop Keith Ackerman have called for a new Oxford Movement in the Anglican Church. (See TexAnglican's Blogspot for a summary of Bishop Ackerman's address and his own observations.) The Oxford Movement was the leading edge of a storm front that caused tremendous damage to the Anglican Church in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The Anglican Church is still reeling from its onslaught.
The Oxford Movement propagated a false gospel of sacramental salvation. It taught that people are saved not by grace by faith in Christ but by good works and sacraments. The Oxford Movement made people dependent upon their priests for salvation, not Jesus Christ. It set many feet upon the broad road to perdition.
The Oxford Movement closed the Bible to the laity, as the Church of Rome had done during the Middle Ages. The English Reformation gave the English people a Bible in their own tongue and put it into their hands. “A Fruitful Exhortation to the Reading and Knowledge of Holy Scripture” in the First Book of Homilies pointed to their attention the profits of the reading and knowledge of God’s Word: “…as drinke is pleasant to them that bee drie, and meate to them that be hungrie: so is the reading, hearing, searching, and studying of holy Scripture, to them that bee desirous to know GOD or themselues, and to doe his will.” The Oxford Movement took the Bible away from the ordinary Christian. It told him that he could not understand the teaching of the Bible for himself. Rather he must rely on the Church and the clergy for an explanation of what it teaches. It further told him that certain doctrines must be withheld from all but the most mature Christians who have shown their maturity through good works. The result was a laity who was not only unfamiliar with the teaching of the Bible but could not discern the truth from false teaching.
The Oxford Movement, also known as the Tractarian Movement, was at the forefront of the nineteenth and twentieth century assault on the Anglican formularies. Leading Tractarian John Newman reinterpreted the Thirty-Nine Articles in a Rome-ward direction. It was Newman’s practice to selectively take quotes from the homilies to support his fanciful ahistorical reinterpretation of the Church of England’s confession of faith. However, if his readers had been given fuller information on the matter under discussion, they would have had a different perspective of it. As Peter Knockles has documented in Oxford Movement in Context: Anglican High Churchmanship 1760-1857 this kind of scholarship, which can be described as faulty if not intellectually dishonest, would come not only to characterize the Oxford Movement but also its offsprings, the Anglo-Catholic and Ritualist Movements. Newman and a number of other Tractarian and later writers would do the same thing to the works of the Caroline Divines, using carefully selected quotes from their works to claim that the Caroline Divines were forerunners to the Oxford Movement and the Oxford Movement was the Caroline Divines’ heir and successor. The Oxford Movement also represented itself as the only advocate of Catholicism in the nineteenth century Church of England, which was patently untrue.
The second generation of the Oxford Movement called for the abolition of the Thirty-Nine Articles as the Church of England’s confession of faith and the substitution of the Prayer Book in its place. The latter they reinterpreted “in a Catholic sense.”
The Episcopal Church, when it adopted its own revised version of the Thirty-Nine Articles in 1801, did not require clergy subscription to the Articles. This, however, did not satisfy Anglo-Catholics in Episcopal Church. They demanded that the Articles should be dropped from the American Prayer Book. They found allies in the Broad Church liberals who had come to dominate the Episcopal Church with the Anglo-Catholics in the early twentieth century. They secured the passage of a resolution in the General Convention, which authorized the omission of the Articles from the Prayer Book. They, however, were frustrated in their designs by the Episcopal Church’s constitution. In 1979 the General Convention relegated the Articles to the historical documents section of the new Prayer Book, a step away from removing it from the Prayer Book altogether. Anglo-Catholicism has been largely responsible for Episcopalians’ lack of knowledge and understanding of Anglicanism’s confession of faith. We are still seeing the consequences of non-confessional Anglicanism worked out in North America, not just in provinces of the Anglican Church of Canada and the Episcopal Church but in the extramural Anglican bodies of the Anglican Church in North America and the Continuing Anglican Churches.
The early Tractarians were staunch defenders of the English Prayer Book. However, they rejected the received interpretation of the Prayer Book. They subjected the Prayer Book to a minute examination and identified every passage and expression that they might reinterpret to support their teaching and practice. The Anglo-Catholic and Ritualist Movements were not satisfied to reinterpret the Prayer Book “in a Catholic sense.” They made unauthorized changes in the English liturgy and imposed the rubrics of the Roman rite upon the English rite. They produced manuals like The Anglican Missal. They agitated for Prayer Book revision. The 1928 Proposed English Prayer Book, twice rejected by the English Parliament, reflects their influence both in its theology and liturgical usages.
The same alliance of Anglo-Catholics and Broad Church liberals, which tried to remove the Thirty-Nine Articles from the American Prayer Book did, however, secure the adoption of the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, which was the first major revision of the American Prayer Book and was far-reaching if not radical in the changes that it introduced. The result was a Prayer Book that was not only more Catholic than its predecessors but also more liberal. It set a precedent for the next revision of the American Prayer Book—the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, which is even more Catholic and liberal than the 1928 revision.
The influence of the Anglo-Catholic Movement is seen in a number of the more recent Prayer Books. These service books are far removed in doctrine and practice from the classical Anglican Prayer Book—The Book of Common Prayer of 1662. The Global Anglican Future Conference in its 2008 Jerusalem Declaration affirmed the 1662 Book of Common Prayer as “a true and authoritative standard of worship and prayer” for Anglicans. The 2009 Assembly of Forward in Faith in North America adopted a resolution calling for the use of the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, supplemented by The American Missal and The Anglican Missal. The 1928 Prayer Book, without the addition of supplemental material from these manuals, departs from the doctrine and practice of the 1662 Prayer Book at a number of points. The addition of supplemental material from The American Missal and The Anglican Missal remove the 1928 Prayer Book even further from the 1662.
The Oxford Movement fostered superstition and beliefs and practices repugnant to Scripture. The Oxford Movement taught that the Lord’s Supper is a sacrifice and that the clergy are a sacrificing priesthood. It taught that Christian people needed other mediators between themselves and God beside Jesus Christ—saints and priests. It not only taught that Christians should pray to the saints and to venerate their relics but also that Christ was substantially present under the forms of the bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper and they should adore him in the consecrated elements. Christ was present even to those who lacked a vital faith. The consecrated elements were once more elevated after the consecration and carried about in processions and displayed upon altars that they might be gaze upon and worshipped.
The Anglo-Catholic and Ritualist Movements reintroduced into the Anglican Church many of the “dark and dumb ceremonies” that the English Reformers had “cut away and clean rejected.” Their adherents have shown an addiction to ceremonies which exceeds that seen in the time of Augustine and in the Middle Ages. From all the ceremonies we might be forced to conclude that “Christ’s Gospel is… a Ceremonial Law” and not “a Religion to serve God…in the freedom of the Spirit.”
The Oxford Movement robbed the laity of their proper place in the Church. Instead of giving the people of God their rightful place in the Church as Christ’s royal priesthood, the Oxford Movement promoted clericism and sacerdotalism. It made the laity assistants, servants, and subordinates to a priestly caste for whose existence no warrant exists in the Bible. The result has been a passive servile laity highly susceptible to “strange and erroneous doctrines” and ill equipped for the work of ministry.
The Oxford Movement was not satisfied to return to the medieval Catholicism of the pre-Reformation English Church. It introduced into the Church of England and its daughter churches the tenets of the Counter-Reformation, the dogmas of the Council of Trent. It spawned the Anglo-Catholic and Ritualist Movements that went a step further and introduced into these churches Roman innovations in doctrine and practice that had developed since the sixteenth century. They spurned the pre-Reformation English Church’s own rich medieval Catholic heritage for the gewgaws and novelties of nineteenth century Continental Catholicism.
The Oxford Movement propagated the myth of Anglicanism as a via media between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. The two Oxford Movement theologians closely associated with this theory of Anglican identity are John Newton and Edward Pusey. Newton would eventually reject tenability of the theory and convert to Roman Catholicism. Pusey, on the other hand, further developed the theory, holding that the ecclesia Anglicana represented a third strand of Catholicism alongside Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. The tenets of the Oxford Movement and Pusey would become so closely identified that for a time the critics of its tenets referred to them as Puseyism.
The Oxford Movement deliberately sought to change the identity of the Church of England. For four hundred years English Churchmen had seen themselves as Protestants. The Oxford Movement broke down the hedge that separated Anglicanism from Roman Catholicism. It created confusion in regards to Anglican identity that has lasted until the present day.
The Oxford Movement undermined the Protestant and Reformed character of the Episcopal Church. During the nineteenth century the then Protestant Episcopal Church had a vibrant Evangelical wing. The Oxford Movement radicalized the High Church party and brought it into sharp conflict with the Evangelical wing. In the Church of England the more extreme adherents of the Oxford Movement tried to drive the Evangelicals out of the church. In the Episcopal Church they succeeded.
The Oxford Movement paved the way for the ascendancy of liberalism in the Episcopal Church. The influence of the Oxford Movement produced generations of Episcopalians who deferred to their priests in all matters of doctrine and practice. Once the clergy of the Episcopal Church and its seminaries became infected with liberalism and modernism, it quickly spread through the Episcopal Church. The sheep caught the infection from their shepherds.
The Anglican Church has not recovered from the havoc that the Oxford Movement wrought in the Church. It certainly does not need a new Oxford Movement any more than Louisiana and Mississippi need another Hurricane Betsy, Camille or Katrina. The original Oxford Movement has caused enough devastation.
Posted by Robin G. Jordan at 9:11 AM