The key idea for Central Churchmen is the idea of being loyal to the Anglican expression of Christianity in theology, worship and discipline. So I am going to look at each of these areas in turn. In my next Blogpost, if nothing intervenes, I am going to put together a bit of a reading list that might begin to give you a fair idea of what it means to be "Central." As is usual for me the approach is going to be historical, but with the idea of outlining the basic principles involved.
Theology for Central Churchmen is very much a continuation of the old High Church,or as some folks called it, orthodox, tradition. We begin first and foremost with the idea that Holy Scripture contains all things necessary to Salvation and it corrolary - that orthodox Creedal Christianity can be proved from the Bible. Therefore it is not neccessary to waste much time here discussing the Being and nature of God, the Trinity, the Incarnation, Atonement, etc., as Central Churchmen are all in full accord with the traditional teaching on these matters. When it comes to what makes Anglicans different, Central Churchmen basically follow the line of development that begins with Jewel, the wanders its way through Hooker to the Caroline Divines, and then on to eighteenth and nineteenth century High Churchmen like Daniel Waterland, William Van Mildert, Harold Browne, Christopher Wordsworth, etc.. Central Churchmen tend to be mildly Arminian in outlook, believe that baptism confers regeneration, and believe that Christ is truly present in the Eucharist. They also hold with a mild form of the doctrine of Apostolic Succession.
English Arminianism is a little different to that of the Dutch. Theologians such as Lancelot Andrewes objected not to the idea of Predestination as such, but to the doctrine of double Predestination promoted by some Calvinists - for example, Perkins. They argued that this, to borrow Archbishop Laud's phrase, "made God the most unjust of tyrants" and they saw double predestination as inconsistent with a loving and merciful God. They also regarded Predestination as preached by some of the Puritans as being anti-sacramental, and the Caroline Divines seem to have held with the idea that Christians exist in a state where we are both saved and being saved. This notion also explains the strong sacramentalism of the Caroline High Churchmen, and of their modern successor of the Central stripe.
Baptismal regeneration as a doctrine can be grossly misunderstood, but in the "saved and being saved" context of the old orthodox Anglican theology it makes perfect sense. Central Churchmen hold that in the absence of any positive will to the contrary on the part of the minister or of the person being baptised, Baptism confers regeneration; the child or person receiving baptism is born again of water and the Holy Spirit, and is made a child of Christ. If they continue in the profession and practice of the Christian Faith they will be saved. It is the duty of parents and godparents (and by extension of the whole Church) to ensure that the child or person baptized is brought up in the Faith. The one thing we have to be quite clear about though, is that Baptismal Regeneration is not some "hocus-pocus" that works independently of the faith of the Church and the faith of the individual, but part of the economy of salvation left to us by Christ Himself.
The Real Presence is something that Central Churchmen believe, but tend not to define. Some Central Churchmen would hold to a position similar to the "high receptionism" of Calvin. Others hold to Virtualism that teaches that whilst there is an objective change in the status of the bread and wine, their natural substances remain, but they become in virtue, power and effect, the Body and Blood of Christ. This protects the notion that Christ is really present, but avoids the murky waters of mediaeval philosophy and the concept that the Eucharistic bread and wine, undergoing some sort of change of substance. Central Churchman also tend to fight shy of too strong a conception of the Eucharist as a sacrifice. It has, however, sacrificial aspects. The first is that it is a commemoration (amnesis) of the one perfect sacrifice once offered, and the second, it is our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving for Christ's saving work. The offering of ourselves in Christ's service is also part of this sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving.
Apostolic succession is a doctrine that has been much over emphasized by some in the Anglican Church. A fact that makes many Central Churchmen a little uncomfortable. That said, there is no denying that Anglican Orders derive from a continuous sequence of ordinations stretching right back to Apostolic times. In some circles there has been far too much made of this physical continuity of hands on heads, and not enough made of the "other" Apostolic Succession - that of doctrine. Most "middle Anglican" wroters on the subject refer to both aspects. They admit that the concept of Apostolic Succession was first and foremost one relating to the need for the Church to continue in "the Apostles' doctrine and teaching" and the ordination was both a commissioning by the church to administer the sacraments and preach the Word, but also an attestation to a man's orthodoxy. Thus in the early church Apostolic Succession was a matter of both ordination and maintenance of the faith once delivered. It was only in the High Middle Ages that a certain hardening of the theological arteries took place and Apostolic Succession became more of a matter of hands on head than rightness of doctrine.
In all of the categories above Central Churchmen reflect the old moderate High Church tradition, so I suppose the next issue that has to be addressed is what differentiates Central Churchmen and Prayer Book Catholics. I think the difference really lies in the attitude of Central Churchmen to the cult of the saints. Central Churchmen certainly revere the saints, but they do not venerate their relics nor invoke them in prayer. Both practices are a bridge too far in the direction of Rome for Central Churchmen. Prayer Book Catholics, on the other hand, find it hard to disapprove of either practice, but point out that neither is to be found in the public liturgy of the Church as laid down in the Prayer Book, and are therefore a matter of individual piety. Prayer Book Catholics and Central Churchmen tend to work together easily because they have a common loyalty to the Anglican tradition. There can be significantly more discomfort when Anglo-Papalists and Central Churchmen come into contact with one another, simply because the former are always looking over their shoulder at Rome - either modern Rome, or that of Pius X. However, so deep was the Central Churchmen's commitment to "the benign and comfortable air of liberty and toleration" that in the twentieth century Anglo-Papalists only got themselves into the doghouse with Central Churchmanship bishops for doing something completely outrageous such as dropping the BCP in favour of the Latin Breviary, Missal, and Ritual. I personally suspect that this tolerance was a calculated policy in that it denied the Anglo-Papalists the glamour of "mild martyrdom" and slowed the growth of practices not to be found in the BCP.
That attitude to the Anglo-Papalists brings to mind another element in the Central Churchmanship ethos - that of continuity. Central Churchmen were generally committed to the BCP and to allowing worship styles to evolve gradually. Whilst the more committed Anglo-Catholics frequently alienated people by changing the usual Matins and Sermon into a non-communicating High Mass, Central Churchmen stuck with the accustomed format adding Communion services in the early morning, and after Matins, then eventually having a Communion service mid-morning oncea month leaving Matins undisturbed the other three Sundays. For much of the twentieth century the usual Central Churchman parish had three services on a Sunday - an early celebration of Holy Communion, Matins and Sermon mid-morning, and Evensong in the early evening. Generally speaking Central Churchmanship parishes adopted the less controversial ideas of the Tractarians in reviving the full use of the BCP. They often had daily Morning and Evening Prayer, and a midweek Communion. The observance of Saints' Days was a bit hit and miss, but a parish would probably see a celebration of the Eucharist if the parson thought he would have a congregation.
Central Churchmanship as a whole seems to have been only moderately enthusiastic about Prayer Book revision. The proposed English BCP of 1928 garnered wide support from Central Churchmen, but neither the Broad Church Randall Davidson of Canterbury, nor the Prayer Book Catholic Cosmo Lang of York really wanted the 1928 BCP. When their successors, the Central Churchmanship Archbishop Fisher and the High Church Archbishop Garbett put forward A Shorter Prayer Book in 1948, the Communion service was very largely that of 1662, with material from the 1928 being confined to the ante-communion, Morning and Evening Prayer, and the occasional offices. It was only in the 1960s under the influence of the Parish Communion Movement that Central Churchmen moved towards Communion as the main Sunday service and the adoption of a new Eucharistic liturgy. As a rule, Central Churchmen initially alternated BCP Matins with Parish Communion according to the alternative liturgy, before settling on the latter as the usual Sunday service. The early service and Evensong remained BCP until well into the 1980s in most places.
When it came to vestments and ceremonial, Central Churchmen were not innovators. Seasonal altar frontals and two candles usually appeared on the altar late in the 19th century, as did the surplice choir; the stole gradually replaced the tippet at Communion services, baptisms and marriages; whilst bowing to the altar entering and leaving church, and after receiving Communion became widely accepted among lay people, with the clergy bowing perhaps a little more frequently in the course of the liturgy. Fasting Communion and receiving at te early celebration were the norm from about 1890 through to the 1950s, but it was not as rigidly enforced as in Anglo-Catholic circles. Central Churchmen parishes generally chanted Matins and Evensong on Sundays, and settled on the mildly High Church Hymns Ancient and Modern as their favoured hymnal. The Communion service generally remained said, though there was a tendancy to use Merbeck's setting when it occurred as the main service on Sundays, and on Christmas, Easter and Whitsunday. In short, the Anglican ethos of the mid-twentieth century as reflected in litierature was very much the creation of the Central Churchman.
In a Central Churchmanship parish, church life in its widest sense was important. Most Central Churchmen would have felt they were letting the side down if they did not promote various societies within their parishes. The old favourites, in addition to Sunday Schools, were the Mother's Union for women, the Church of England Men's Society for men, and the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel - for mission work. Many Central Churchmen were also keen on Scouting with troops of both Scouts and Guides being attached to many town parishes. Large parishes often had attached to them a roster of local groups - knitting circles, youth groups, etc. - which although not specifically Church related used the parish plant as their meeting point. This provided an interface between the wider community and the parish church that kept the Church at the centre of village and small town life. It has probably been the case that disappearence or complete secularization of many of these groups that has done most to marginalize Christianity in England.
As I have said before, Central Churchmen stood for historic Christianity in its Anglican guise. They relied on the Bible, the Early Fathers, and the Caroline Divines, along with a hearty dollop of commonsense in doctrinal matters. Worship was according to the BCP, which they generally regarded as the best liturgy in Christendom, but one not incapable of improvement. Ceremonial was deliberately moderate, with the traditional Laudian idea of the beauty of holiness being given moderate rein. The overall ethos was one of orthodoxy, duty and devotion tempered by an abhorance of fanaticism, the usual British reserve, and a fear of appearing Pharasaical.