Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Toward the Renewal of Biblical Anglicanism in the North America: A New Province

By Robin G. Jordan

An important way that North American Anglicans faithful to the Bible and the historic Anglican formularies can promote the renewal of biblical Anglicanism in the North American Anglican Church is to form a new North American Anglican province and bring all Anglicans like themselves together under one roof.

Such a province needs to have as broad a base as may be possible within the bounds of the comprehensiveness set by the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion. This is an important qualification.

The comprehensiveness of the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion is an “evangelical comprehensiveness.” [1] It is a comprehensiveness that “results from keeping doctrinal requirements down to a minimum and allowing the maximum of flexibility and variety on secondary matters.” [2] The new province should embody this comprehensiveness.

Among the Articles’ doctrinal requirements are that all clergy and congregations should stand with the Creeds on the Trinity, on the Incarnation, on the second coming of our Lord, and on the Christian hope. [3] They should stand with the Articles on “the sufficiency and supremacy of Scripture,” “the gravity of sin,” “justification by faith alone in and through Christ alone,” “the nature of the sacraments as seals of gospel promise, means of grace because they are means of faith,” “loyalty to the gospel in word and sacrament as the sole decisive mark of the church,” and “the dangerous, anti-evangelical tendency of Roman doctrines and practices.” [4]

To be authentically Anglican, a new province must be fully Anglican from a confessional standpoint and not just in name. On one hand, it should steer clear of the narrowness that characterizes some Reformed bodies. On the other hand, it should avoid the incoherence that has come to characterize the Anglican Communion.

To be an agent for the renewal of biblical Anglicanism in North America, a new province must itself exemplify biblical Anglicanism. Its doctrine, discipline, and worship must reflect the Protestant and Reformed principles of the Anglican Church based on the Holy Scriptures and set out in the historic Anglican formularies, including the two Books of Homilies.

One of the reasons that I do not believe that a new North American Anglican province should be formed around an existing organization is that this organization will have developed a culture of its own with its own assumptions, values, and beliefs governing the life of the organization. The temptation will be to shape the assumptions, values, and beliefs of the new province after those of the existing organization. If the existing organization is not fully Anglican in the confessional sense and is committed to a different vision of the church than the vision of the church articulated in the historic Anglican formularies, then the resulting province would fall short of exemplifying biblical Anglicanism. This includes a narrower vision of the church than the one the evangelical comprehensiveness of the Articles permits.

Historic Anglicanism is rooted in the English Reformation and the Protestant Elizabethan Settlement, in the early Reformed theology of Bucher, Bullinger, Cranmer, Hooper, and Vermigli. The reformed Church of England in the sixteenth and seventeenth century was closer to Zurich and the other Swiss Reformed Churches than to Geneva. The reigns of Elizabeth I, James I, and Charles I were marked by growing tension between those who believed that the English Church was sufficiently reformed and those who wished to further reform the English Church along the lines of the Genevan Church. The extremism of the latter party had the unfortunate affect of pushing one segment of the English Church in a High Church direction. Whether the changes that this party sought to introduce (and did introduce during the Interregnum) would have made the English Church conform more closely to the teaching of the Bible is highly debatable. In a number of instances these changes simply reflected the preferences of the party in question.

Although a number of the Restoration bishops were Arminian, Reformed theology would remain the dominant theology of the Church of England. While the worship of the English Church would become more High Church in some regards, it was not as ritualistic as it would become during the nineteenth century Catholic Revival. The Coronation Oath Act of 1688 would affirm the Protestant and Reformed character of the Anglican Church.

In light of these historical facts a restrained form of High Churchmanship that is Protestant and Reformed in its theological outlook has a place in the Anglican Church.

Rather than being formed around an existing organization, I believe that a new province should be formed around a shared vision of the Church that unites the different elements in and outside the Anglican Church in North America faithful to the Bible and the historic Anglican formularies, a vision that is informed by and congruent with the evangelical comprehensiveness of the Articles. What these elements desire to become collectively in banding together and what they would like to accomplish over a given period of time should be very clear from the outset. A clear vision is essential to the development of an organizational culture that supports the fulfillment of that vision. It helps to ensure that the assumptions, beliefs, and values of the new province are fully aligned with the direction that all the elements forming it are seeking to go, and not just the direction in which one segment wishes to take the new province.

In order to develop such a vision all elements forming the new province would need to agree on what the Articles mean. This understanding should be based upon a careful reading of the Articles with attention to their phrasing, the historic context in which they were framed, and the intention of their framers. The use of untrustworthy expositions of the Articles such as Cardinal John Henry Newman’s in Tract 90, E.J. Bicknell’s in Theological Introduction to the Thirty-Nine Articles and Bishop John Rodger’s in Essential Truths for Christians: A Commentary on the Anglican Thirty-Nine Articles and an Introduction to Systematic Theology, which reinterpret the Articles in an unreformed Catholic direction, would result in a vision that does not genuinely reflect the doctrine of the Articles.

 [1] J.I. Packer and R.T.Beckwith, The Thirty-Nine Articles: Their Place and Use Today, Regent College Publishing, 2007, p. 69.
[2]Ibid., p. 69.
[3] Ibid., p. 70.
[4]Ibid., p. 70.

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