Monday, April 11, 2011

Continuing What? The English Reformation: Key to the Continuing Church


Founded forty years ago to maintain the Anglican and Episcopal spiritual heritage against grievous assaults - i.e., theological innovation disguised as liturgical revision (Shands & Evans, How and Why (Seabury: N.Y. 1971)) - the Continuing Church movement faltered almost at the start. The reasons were not unlike those that enabled the assault on the Episcopal Church to succeed in the first place.

Episcopalians in the 1960's and '70's were generally unfamiliar with the scriptural doctrines taught in the Anglican Formularies, primarily in the 39 Articles of Religion. Neglect and partisan misleading (see, e.g., F. E. Wilson, An Outline of the English Reformation, 56-57 (1941)) had drawn them away from that excellent condensed summary of essential biblical doctrines. Therefore, when the same doctrines contained in the services of the Book of Common Prayer were attacked under the guise of updating the language, the people were unprepared. The substance of Article II within the Communion service, for example, came under determined attack. Had the people been better versed in their own doctrinal position stated in the 39 Articles, they would have been able to see and reject the new theology being visited upon them in the new rites. As it was, however, the pretextual claim of a need to modernize the language of worship swept aside all resistance.

The Continuers who formed in 1977 did well in seeking to rectify this situation, but they labored under a like deficiency. They rightly stood for the 1928 BCP, but they excluded the 39 Articles. The Affirmation of St. Louis(1977). This marked a break with faithful Anglicans worldwide and with the Continuers' own spiritual forefathers of the previous century. The high-church bishops among those at the first Lambeth Conference in 1867 proposed a resolution stating their commitment to the faith "defined by the first four General Councils, and reaffirmed by the Fathers of the English Reformation." The Mandate, 4 - 6, vol. 31, no. 1 (Prayer Book Society: Philadelphia 2008). The Continuers' failure to take this stand allowed for latent disagreement among them about whether they truly meant their position to be Anglican - i.e., consistent with the English Reformation and its governing Formularies. This gave an opening to those of their bishops who tacitly rejected the English Reformation. These bishops, under the name of continuing Anglicans, immediately set up separate and decidedly un-Anglican systems and doctrines. P. Laukhuff, President of the St. Louis Congress, A Declaration of Conscience(June 18, 1982). Thus began the self-defeating syndrome that has discredited and kept a stranglehold on the Continuum ever since.

Today, the same Continuers are, if possible, in still greater disarray for the identical reason: they lack unified commitment to their own Reformed-Catholic Formularies, especially the 39 Articles of Religion. This makes them easy targets for the same anti-Anglican influence that bedeviled and divided them at the threshold 30+ years ago.

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2 comments:

B.N.A.Freedom said...

Biblical illiteracy is a real problem amongst many former (and current) Episcopalians. Some "Traditional" priests and bishops in the so-called "Continuing Anglican Church" in North America were trained in liberal seminaries and never studied the Bible much. I was encouraged recently to learn that an A.M.I.A. congregation I visited is studying the 39 Articles each week. This new and vibrant Parish is re-discovering on their own (with the help of the Holy Spirit) the rich heritage of the Reformed Anglican Church. This sort of thing is, unfortunately,
"just not done" by so many of the older Anglo-Catholic Churches.

RMBruton said...

Robin,
I still don't see anyone utilizing the complete Anglican package, the 1662 BCP,the Ordinal, the 39 Articles, and the Homilies. You get some dribs and drabs here and there, but that is all. Like Dad said, "the apple doesn't fall far from the tree".