Thursday, November 17, 2011

'The Eclipse of the Gospel'

Church Society 2011 Conference Report

Church Society met Friday 1st – Sunday 3rd July at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford for its annual conference. The aim of the Conference was to examine, past and present, the impact of Anglo-Catholicism on the Church of England.

David Phillips, General Secretary of Church Society, opened the conference on Friday afternoon with a bible exposition of 2 Peter 1. Following a short break, David then spoke about the origins of Tractarianism and the evangelical response to it. Its roots can be traced to 1833 when the Irish Bill (which abolished two Archbishoprics and eight Bishoprics in Ireland) stirred into action a group of men (including Keble, Newman and Froude) who had become increasingly resentful of state interference in church affairs. In 1833 they issued the first of their Oxford Tracts which set out their concerns on issues such as Apostolic Succession, Church separation from state, personal holiness and opposition to liberalism. Tract 90 was published in 1841 by Newman, which attempted to argue that the 39 Articles support Roman doctrine.

David then outlined the evangelical response to the Oxford Movement. From the outset, evangelical Anglicans could see the errors in the Tracts. In 1833, the evangelical paper The Record described the Tracts as ‘melancholy and wicked Popish delusions’ and William Goode’s publications helped to assure evangelicals that they were the true Anglicans. However, the evangelical cause was weakened by the bishops’ failure to discipline the Tractarians, and the Gorham case showed evangelicals that they could not take their understanding of the Articles for granted. In 1865 the Church Association was formed to ‘educate, suppress, assist parishioners and take legal action (i.e.test cases, to clarify the law)’. However, the Tractarians continued to break the law and eventually were imprisoned – gaining them public sympathy. Later evangelicals such as J.C. Ryle and Henry Wace moved away from ritual prosecution.

David concluded his talk by explaining how Tractarianism had been a disaster for the Church of England and Nation because it undermined discipline in the church, damaged simplicity in worship and led to many evangelicals leaving the church. To read more, click here.

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