Saturday, January 9, 2010

There are Evangelicals and Evangelicals

One of the things that mildly amuses and distresses me is the way in which the term Evangelical has been hijacked in the America; first by the Revivalists, and then by the modern Charismatic Movement. At the risk of "teaching Granny to suck eggs" I think I ought to point out that Evangelical simply means "of the Gospel" - i.e. a person or church that holds fast to the chief teachings of the New Testament and of the Gospels in particular. I would hope that all churches would be "small-e" evangelical, unfortunately some get diverted off into preaching Socialism via an inadequate version of the social gospel, others overlay the evangelical message with all sorts of denominational and sectarian distinctives.

So what do I mean by Evangelical? Well there is both an historical and a theological reference here.

The historical reference is to two groups of people. The first group are the sixteenth century Reformers - Luther, Bucer, Calvin, Cranmer, etc.. The second group, at least within my Anglican context, are what the Right Rev. J. C. Ryle (1816-1901) described as the "Christian Leaders of the Last Century." This group included George Whitefield, Augustus Toplady, William Grinshaw, John Beveridge, Daniel Rowlands, Henry Venn the elder, all of whom were both Evangelical and Anglican; though the intransigence of the Hannoverian episcopate sometimes forced them to stray outside the parish churches in order to preach the Gospel! Between them they began a great movement within the Church of England that soon spread to other denominations and traditions. So what was their message?

First and foremost, they preached that man was very far gone from his original righteousness, that we are in need of the Saviour, and that that Saviour is Jesus Christ. In order to be saved, you needed to repent, have faith in Jesus Christ, and follow Him. Theologically, they held to the five "solas" of the Reformation - Christ alone, Scripture alone, Grace alone, Faith alone, to God alone be the Glory - and the majority held to a moderately reformed (mildly Calvinist) understanding of Christianity; though one or two, such as William Fletcher, were mild Arminians. They all held, unlike the Finneyite Revivalists, that conversion was the work of God, and could not be stimulated by purely human means. Therefore they preached with conviction the Good News, and let the Grace of God do its work.

Although they shared their basic tenants with the Wesleys, with the exception of Whitefield, the Anglican Evangelicals were rooted within the parochial ministry, though most would occasionally go on preaching tours to collect their neighbours straying sheep, as Beveridge might have looked at the matter. As a result, their ministry was conducted within the context of the Anglican liturgy - the Book of Common Prayer. Without exception they spoke highly of its structure and content. My own belief is that that they thought so highly of the BCP because it gave liturgical form to reformation theology, and provided a balanced diet of prayer, praise and sacrament to feed the soul.

Unfortunately for both Evangelicals and Anglicans, the connection between Evangelicalism and Prayer Book liturgy has been lost, and with it the tendancy for the BCP to be a unifying force between Evangelicals and Protestant High Churchmen. Without the Evangelical impulse the tendancy of High Church Anglicanism is to either look towards Rome, which is a hostile and unscriptural system, or to become the "frozen chosen." For Evangelicals, the loss is one of objectivity. The Prayer Book, with its retention of the traditional Christian year, forces a conscientious preacher to preach the whole counsel of God, not just the bits he likes. It demands order and balance, which is one of the characteristic virtues of traditional Anglicanism.


  1. Absolutely first rate and totally true. I have always believed that to be a real prayer book Anglican one had to believe the Catholic (but not the Roman) Faith, keep the fullness of the Orthodox worship of the Book of Common Prayer, accept the Apostolic Order of the ministry of bishop, priest and deacon and be truly Evangelical in mission. I have always believed that one can not be Catholic at the altar unless you are also completely Evangelical in the pulpit and in the street.

    Many of those who misappropriate the name Evangelical are frequently horrified by the demands of Holy Scripture, i.e., such as you find in the book of Malachi or in our Lord's own words.

  2. Hello Bishop(s),

    High churchmen and 'evangelicals' might find much in common if justification was more firmly identified as it pertains to worship. Not only is faith required to receive the benefits objectively present in the sacrament, but the sacraments of christ are counted by their attachment to the Promise, and therefore the remission of sin. What remits sin vs. what stirs faith was a major impetus behind the reform of worship, what ceremony is adiaphora, and why there are only two dominical sacraments.

    After reading some of the RCC catechism on liturgy and 'sacramental economy', I realize the exaggerated view of tradition is strongly related to RC meritorious justification and a very radical idea of epiclesis. Basically, by an epiclesis any perceptible object can become a 'sacrament', almost hokus pokus. I am wondering how this connects to the earlier idea of exorcism.

    What is the relation between epiclesis and exorcism? Is it lawful to conduct an epiclesis on, say, candles, believing they become 'objective vehicles' for the Holy Spirit, like bread and wine? When we ask baptismal waters to be 'sanctified' (or cruet waters), is this exorcism understood as an epiclesis? Can we make 'sacraments' like this out of ashes, crosses, oil, palm leaves, icons, etc.. ?

  3. I think the BCP was only able to be 'a unifying force between Evangelicals and Protestant High Churchmen' as long as it had the so-called black rubric in it. It reassured Evangelicals that they had nothing to fear from what looked like the popish leanings of the high churchmen. Without that rubric, and with the directions taken in recent revisions of and alternatives to the Prayer Book, it's very hard indeed for an Evangelical to feel much unity with high churchmen.

    In case you've forgotten, here's the reassurance:

    Whereas it is ordained in this Office for the Administration of the Lord’s Supper, that the Communicants should receive the same kneeling; (which order is well meant, for a signification of our humble and grateful acknowledgement of the benefits of Christ therein given to all worthy Receivers, and for the avoiding of such profanation and disorder in the holy Communion, as might otherwise ensue;) yet, lest the same kneeling should by any persons, either out of ignorance and infirmity, or out of malice and obstinacy, be misconstrued and depraved; It is hereby declared, that thereby no adoration is intended, or ought to be done, either unto the Sacramental Bread or Wine there bodily received, or unto any Corporal Presence of Christ’s natural Flesh and Blood. For the Sacramental Bread and Wine remain still in their very natural substances, and therefore may not be adored; (for that were Idolatry, to be abhorred of all faithful Christians;) and the natural Body and Blood of our Saviour Christ are in Heaven, and not here; it being against the truth of Christ’s natural Body to be at one time in more places than one.

    Philip Wainwright

  4. Hello Philip,

    My earlier point regarded the weighted relation between tradition and scripture. I think this is certainly an important point for evangelicals (sola scriptura), and, when justification is more broadly understood, it defines much of Anglican worship and Prayer Book order. This could (or should be) a point of common intersection between Old High Churchmen (ritualists who assent to the 39 Articles) and 'Evangelicals'.

    But perhaps you are right. Transubstantiation is a bigger grievance, and a reintroduction of the black rubric would do much to allay fears? That being said, notice the Black Rubric says nothing about a 'spiritual real presence' objectively located in the bread. Thus, it remains open to rather high sacramental views, albeit not a change or annihilation in substance (which overthrows the nature of sacrament). Nonetheless, a Realist interpretation remains.

    I personally approve and admire the Black Rubric, and treat is as saying something authoritative and distinct regarding Anglican sacrament. As pointed out to me earlier on this website, the 1662 Black Rubric differs from the 1552, and their difference is both significant and insightful. Nonetheless, for catholic and presbyterian parties, the definition left many unhappy. Kneeling at the rail continued as did the accusation of adoration implied by such.

    If restoring a Black Rubric was all classical evangelicals and high churchmen needed to bridge understanding, we'd be in luck. Unfortunately, there is a wider theological gulf to bridge. On the Anglican Catholic side, it is how catholic faith is defined by the BCP liturgy (since this is often the only protestant standard admitted). But this gets incredibly difficult and messy when the liturgy is artificially divorced from Settlement articles. It is further complicated when Missals are added. We are left with the question, "Are Anglo-Catholics traditional High Churchmen?"

  5. "Are Anglo-Catholics traditional High Churchmen?"

    In a word "no." Traditional High Churchmen believe in Baptismal Regeneration, and Apostolic Succession, but their Eucharistic doctrine was Receptionist or Virtualist, and they were distinctly uncomfortable with a whole washing list of RC doctrines. I think the words that Disraeli used to commend Christopher Wordsworth's appointment as Bishop of Lincoln hold true "A true Protestant and a sound High Churchman."