By Robin G. Jordan
“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”
“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you CAN make words mean so many different things.”
“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that's all.”
We live in a Humpty Dumpy world in which words mean whatever we want to them. They do not have an absolute existence but are conditioned. The relativity of words fits with the post-modern, post-Christian mindset of contemporary culture, as does the theory that Anglicanism is changing and evolving. Anglicanism is whatever is in vogue at a particular place and time. It means whatever meaning we choose to give it. Just as there are many truths, there are many versions of Anglicanism. No one group can lay claim to represent authentic Anglicanism. Or so we are told.
The sixteenth century Reformers would shake their heads in disbelief. By the logic of such thinking there must also be many versions of the gospel and many versions of apostolic faith. They, the Anabaptists, and the Church of Rome all were all equally right (and equally wrong).
To speak in terms of an Anglican standard in the twenty-first century is unfashionable and out of favour. Yet a standard of doctrine and faith in the form of the Formularies is a major part of the heritage that the Reformers have bequeathed to us. Through their reading and study of the Holy Scriptures, they had acquired a Biblical worldview in which there is an absolute Truth in the person of God. Contained in the Formularies, in the Books of Homilies, and in their other writings is the Biblical worldview, which is also a major part of their legacy to us. The Formularies have been historically been regarded as authoritative because they are agreeable to the Holy Scriptures. They are consonant with the Biblical worldview.
The inheritance the Reformers left us, if we receive it, sets us at variance with the world. It is profoundly counter-cultural in the new millennium. It affirms what the new paradigm rejects: Truth is absolute. It also affirms the corollary of this proposition: A single group may possess the truth.
The implication is that if one group possesses the truth, other groups do not. This is where historic Anglicanism and Roman Catholicism find common ground. Where they do not agree is which faith tradition is the possessor of the truth.
Convergentists may argue that each faith tradition has a part of the truth. However, this reveals how far post-modern, post-Christian mindset has penetrated the North American Anglican community. No conservative adherent of the two faith traditions is going to take this position—Anglican or Roman Catholic.
George Barna has done considerable research on US evangelicals. Among his findings was that very few of them have a Biblical worldview and their lifestyles do not differ greatly from non-Christians except in the area of church attendance. If this segment of the population is being affected by contemporary culture, I believe that we can safely assume supposedly conservative North American Anglicans have not escaped its influence. It is only a matter of time before we see the empirical evidence to support this conclusion.
We have been undergoing a major paradigm shift that has been much more widespread in its effects that we might like to admit. Unless we are like the Old Amish of western Kentucky and reject modern life altogether, we have experienced its effects. Post-modernism with its basic position that nobody has a monopoly on the truth has not only influenced the liberal church but also underlies the Emergent Church movement and the Ancient-Future or Convergence movement
I am involved in a church targeted at university students and young adults and I see how much this shift has affected the young Christians in the congregation. They come from non-evangelical as well as evangelical backgrounds.
The opening decades of the twenty-first century definitely present a challenge for North American Anglicans who hold and maintain the Protestant faith of the Reformed Church of England and her Formularies. In North America historic Anglicanism has a much smaller sphere of influence than it does outside North America.
In the United States, in the former Protestant Episcopal Church in the USA, the two dominant ideologies have been liberalism and Western Catholicism. The Eastern Catholic tradition has not played a large role in North American Anglicanism except to influence the thinking behind a number of changes in the American Prayer Book adopted in 1789, 1977, and 1979. Classical Anglican evangelicalism has not played any significant role in that church since 1873 and virtually disappeared from the church by 1900. It did enjoy a brief revival in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, and the result of that revival was the now defunct Anglican Fellowship of Witness and Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry. Since that time TESM has moved away from the classical Anglican evangelicalism of its first dean Alf Stanway. Classical Anglican evangelicalism played a more substantial role in the Anglican Church of Canada but its influence waned in the second half of the twentieth century.
The prevalence of Western Catholic influence in North American Anglicanism has influenced North American Anglicans’ perceptions of Anglicanism and given them a distorted view of historic Anglicanism. Liberalism has also contributed to this distorted view, as has post-modernism. Articles, books, lectures, and sermons and now the Internet have fostered and reinforced this particular view. The bulk of the writings of the sixteenth century Reformers are unfamiliar to North American Anglicans.
Historical Anglicanism may be accurately described as a variant of Western Catholicism. At the same time I must also qualify my statement. Celtic Christianity that flourished in the British Isles and Ireland before the invasion of the Angles, Jutes, Frisians, and Saxons, and which played a large role in the evangelization of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms does evidence the influence of Eastern Catholicism. However, we should not make too much of this influence. Christianity came to the British Isles from North Africa and Spain quite early in the history of the Christian Church, following the trade routes between the ancient Mediterranean world and “the Tin Islands.” This may account for what appear to be early Eastern Catholic elements in Celtic Christianity. From Britain Christianity would spread to Ireland. Celtic Christianity was unique in a number of ways. It was insular and its insularity would shape its development. Celtic Christianity would through the Irish Church influence Western Catholicism. The Church of Rome would adopt the Irish penitential system.
From the time of Augustine’s mission to the West Saxons Christianity in the British Isles would increasingly come under the influence of Western Catholicism. At the Council of Whitby a Saxon prince would trade the austere aestheticism of Celtic Christianity for the more congenial worldliness of Roman Christianity. He had already made up his mind before the Council, which was a mere formality. He further opened the way for the growing Western Catholic influence in the British Isles. His decision was not binding upon the other kingdoms but it set a precedent and provided Roman Christianity with a larger foothold. Ireland would not come under that influence until late in the eleventh century.
The late Peter Toon was not far wrong in describing historic Anglicanism as “Reformed Catholicism,” or more specifically reformed Western Catholicism. Where he fell short was in failing to sufficiently draw attention to the extent of the reforms. In what has been described as “the Long Reformation,” from the reign of Edward VI to the Glorious Revolution, the Church of England became thoroughly Protestant and Reformed in character. The Coronation Oath Act of 1688 comprises an attestation of its Protestant and Reformed character.
In The Church of England of England, What It Is, And What It Stands For, Roger T. Beckwith makes a very important point:
What gives consistency to the other seven principles, and sums them up, is the fact that the Church of England is a reformed catholic church. The Church of England is reformed in its emphasis on the Bible, in its 39 Articles, in its vernacular worship, and in its recognition of the royal supremacy in its government. But it is also catholic, in that it retains the ancient common heritage of Christendom, in a biblical form. The Church of England acknowledges the role of the church in interpreting the Bible correctly (Article 20), and uses the ancient catholic creeds as examples of such true interpretation. It maintains, as its practice, liturgical worship, infant baptism, episcopal ministry, parochial organization and national establishment, all handed down from antiquity. The Anglican Reformers valued this edifying heritage, well tested over the centuries, and rejected the idea of starting everything afresh, with the unnecessary controversy and practical mistakes which such a course would inevitably lead to. Instead they simply used the standard of Scripture, applied by reason, to correct whatever needed correcting in the church’s inherited forms. (p. 26)
The Church of England therefore aims, and claims, to be catholic not sectarian. It does not need to make concessions to Roman Catholicism, of the sort sometimes called for by ecumenical commissions, in order to become catholic. Such concessions, while supposedly making it more catholic, would in reality cause it to be no longer reformed. Conversely, it does not need to divest itself of all that it has inherited from antiquity, in order to make itself more reformed. In doing this, it would cease to be the church of the people, and so would become sectarian rather than catholic. Already there are moves in a sectarian direction among us, from various quarters. They need to be countered, not indulged. (pp.25-26)
The Tractarian and Anglo-Catholic movements of the nineteenth century took the position that the reforms had either gone too far or they should have never been undertaken in the first place. They appointed themselves the task of changing the identity of the Church of England.
The Tractarian and Anglo-Catholic ideologues were decidedly sympathetic to the unreformed Western Catholicism of the Church of Rome. They desired rapprochement and eventual reconciliation between the Church of England and the Church of Rome. They represented a counter-Reformation movement in the Church of England and her daughter churches.
While their spiritual heirs may not be of one mind about submitting to the Pope and papal authority and becoming Roman Catholics, and a number of them lean toward Eastern Catholicism, they by and large embody the unreformed Western Catholicism of the Church of Rome. The few reforms that they embraced from the English Reformation—an English Bible, an English liturgy, and independence from the Church of Rome—do not obviate the unreformed character of their faith and practice.
If we look at the contemporary North American Anglican scene we see traditionalist Anglo-Catholics and those who might be described as “the new Anglo-Catholics” already at work to strengthen independent unreformed Western Catholicism’s sphere of influence in North America. The Common Cause Partnership Leadership Council adopted a Theological Statement that favoured unreformed Western Catholicism and presented to what was billed as the inaugural Provincial Assembly of the Anglican Church in North America a constitution and set of canons that also favoured unreformed Western Catholicism. The delegates to this assembly had been told in advance that if they did not ratify these documents, there would be no alternative Anglican province in North America, for which the GAFCON Primates had called. Since then the bishops of the ACNA have, through their actions, taken the unreformed Western Catholic position that their authority is intrinsic to their office and order and not derived from the constitution and canons, and have largely paid no attention to the provisions of the two documents, treating them as a mandate to do what they please. Most recently, they have recognized the orders of two independent Western Catholic bishops in contravention of the recommendations of Resolution 54 of the 1958 Lambeth Conference and received them into the College of Bishops of the ACNA. Traditionalist Anglo-Catholics in the ACNA are calling for “a new Oxford movement,” a renewal of unreformed Western Catholicism not only in that body but also other Anglican bodies.
Outside of the ACNA, in the Continuum, the Anglican Church of America (ACA) and the Anglican Province of America (APA) have begun talks that may lead to a reconciliation of the two churches, which were twenty years ago one church. The consolidation of these two churches would be an important step in putting a halt to the fragmentation that has characterized the Continuum, and might finally lead to the restoration of the Anglican Church of North America (also the ACNA) that was established after the St. Louis Congress and which personal ambitions, conflicting visions, and squabbling over constitutions and canons tore apart in a space of a few short years. A successful reconciliation of these two churches could lead to further consolidation of the highly fragmented Continuum. If the Continuum has a future, it lies in consolidation into a united traditionalist Anglo-Catholic church committed to the 1928 Book of Common Prayer and opposed to the ordination of women. In its fragmented state the Continuum is like a fire in which someone has raked apart the hot coals to extinguish the fire. One by one each hot coal will become cold and lifeless. Only together can the churches of the Continuum hope to keep burning.
The task that North American Anglicans who hold and maintain the Protestant faith of the Reformed Church of England and her Formularies face in the twenty-first century is to work together to expand the sphere of influence of historic Anglicanism in North America. It promises to be a formidable task. However, unless they undertake this task, there will be no authentic historic Anglican witness in North America committed to the Bible and the Reformation.
North American Anglicans who are Protestant in their faith and stand in continuity with the Reformed Church of England and her Formularies must, in order to accomplish this task, organize themselves and mobilize their combined resources to this end. Whatever jurisdiction in which God has placed them, they must build bridges to those sympathetic to historic Anglicanism and form alliances with them. They must establish networks for mutual counsel, support, and assistance not only within their respective jurisdictions but also outside them, linking together like-minded Anglicans and fostering unity and cooperation among them. Wherever and whenever God provides the opportunity, they must plant and grow churches that are committed to historic Anglicanism, to the Protestant faith of the Reformed Church of England and her Formularies. They must especially reach out to those segments of the population in the North American mission field, which live in the inner city, multihousing, rural areas, small towns, and trailer-parks, to the Hispanic population, and to Anglicans, Episcopalians, and others living in the fly-over regions of Canada and the United States, in Alaska and Hawaii, and in Puerto Rico and other territories of the United States, and in out-of-the-way places. They must promote the use of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer and alternative services and rites in the language of the Prayer Book or good contemporary liturgical English or Spanish, which adhere to its biblical and Reformation teaching and are sensitive to its liturgical usages. If they adopt informal local patterns of corporate worship, these patterns must respect historic Anglicanism and preserve the centrality of Scripture, the communication of gospel truth, and the high level of congregational participation, which characterizes Anglican tradition of common prayer at its best. They must draw attention to the Protestant and Reformed character of historic Anglicanism, to correct North American Anglicans’ perceptions of Anglicanism and to counter the distorted view of Anglicanism prevailing in North America. They must combat efforts to portray the adherents of historic Anglicanism, of the Protestant faith of the Reformed Church of England and her Formularies, as hyper-Calvinists, Puritans, and ultra-Protestants and to dismiss them as a foreign element in Anglicanism. They must establish and administer grant-in-aid and scholarship funds to provide financial help to those committed to historic Anglicanism and training as gospel workers. They must develop innovative methods to train gospel workers, which keep them in the mission field of North America where they are needed. They must also establish a voluntary association of Anglican churches for common mission, mutual support and aid, and the recruitment, training, and oversight of clergy and other gospel workers for congregations and clergy that due to their theological convictions or other reasons cannot participate in an existing Anglican body.
As formidable as this task promises to be, it must be undertaken if the New Testament gospel, as the Reformed Church of England has historically understood it, is to be still heard in Anglican and Episcopal pulpits in North America, and North American Anglicans are to be faithful to our Lord’s Great Commission to his disciples. “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” (Mark 16:15 NKJV) If the North American Anglican Church ceases to proclaim the gospel and to share the good news, then we can draw only one conclusion. God has judged the church, weighed it in his balance, and found it wanting. He has taken away its lampstand, and His Spirit has departed from it.
“For the earth which drinks in the rain that often comes upon it, and bears herbs useful for those by whom it is cultivated, receives blessing from God; but if it bears thorns and briars, it is rejected and near to being cursed, whose end is to be burned.” (Hebrews 6:7-8 NKJV)