Thursday, August 2, 2012

The Reformed Face of Anglicanism

The English Reformation is often glossed over by modern Episcopalians, especially those of an Anglo-Catholic bent. Yet there is no denying that reformation of the Church of England fits in, doctrinally, with the moderate end of Reformed Christianity. Cranmer evolved theologically from a Roman Catholic interested in the new learning, firstly into a Lutheran, and then, because of the shift in his views on the Eucharist in 1547, into a moderate exponant of the Reformed Faith. Cranmer's personal journey of faith left its mark on the Church of England in the form of a Liturgy that remains to this day more closely allied to Lutheran practice, but that liturgy is couple to a doctrinal stance that is broadly, but decidedly Reformed. You could almost say that the Church of England reverses the the position of the Landeskirche of Saxe-Wurttenburg, which, like several other Lutheran churches in Southwestern Germany has a Reformed Liturgy coupled to a Lutheran Confession.

Although modern Anglicans try to ignore the fact, both the Edwardian and Elizabethan Settlements took a reformed stance. The creative phase of the English Reformation covers the period 1538 to 1565, which is precise the time frame in which the Reformed Faith, as exemplified by Geneva, takes over from the more moderate reform of Luther. However, the English Reformation was not quite as radical as that of Geneva in its final form, and this did much to set up the tension between Churchman and Puritan in the later years of Elizabeth I's reign. However, it has to be understood that the quarrel between Whitgift and Cartwright, and later generations of churchmen and puritans was not an argument between theological systems, but a disagreement (to use a mild word for it) within the Reformed Faith.

The 42 Articles of 1552 and the 39 Articles of 1563, both commit the Church of England to the fundamentals of the Reformed Faith. Both sets of Articles affirm the centrality of Scripture, and take a monergist position on Justification. Both sets of Articles affirm that the Church of England accepts the doctrine of predestination and election as a 'comfort to the faithful' but warn against over much speculation concerning that doctrine. Indeed a casual reading of the Wurttemburg Confession of 1551, the Second Helvetic Confession, the Scots Confession of 1560, and the XXXIX Articles of Religion reveal them to be cut from the same bolt of cloth. Although the Lambeth Articles of 1595 never received royal sanction, they do reflect the theological reality of the Church of England in the later years of Elizabeth I's reign. It was a Calvinist Church, but one with Bishops and a Liturgy. The double pre-destinarian theology of the Lambeth Articles may not have found favour with the Queen and with the moderates, but apart from a few eccentrics - whose opinions the Article were meant to refute - the English Church was commited to a reformed and predestinarian theology. This is a contrast to today where may Anglicans identify as Reformed Catholic, but their Reformed Catholicism is not that of the Articles, but a form of Old Catholicism. This is a direct consequence of the attempts made by Anglo-Papalists and Anglo-Catholics to Unreform the Church.

Now I have to conceed at this point that not all Anglo-Catholics reject the Reformation, and, as you will have noticed if you have read older posts on the Old High Churchman, some are indeed sympathetic to the positive principles of the Reformation, but there has always been what I call 'the Hurrell Froude' element who speak of the Reformation as a 'limb badly set.' I have to be very honest and say that I do not concur with their very negative view of the Refomation as I believe in taking our formularies of our Church at their face value. That is to say, in reading the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, the Homilies, and the BCP in their natural, grammatical sense. In doing that one comes to the unavoidable conclusion that Anglicanism is indeed a Via Media, but not between Catholicism and Protestantism, but between Lutheranism and Calvinism. It is also pointless to deny the evidence of a continuous series of prominent clergymen in the Anglican tradition who have been Reformed in their theology. Even after the Restoration, when Calvinism was clean out of fashion, Bishops like Edward Reynolds of Norwich and George Morley of Winchester held to their Predestinarian views and a basically Reformed theological framework. Therefore the Calvinism of early Evangelicals - like George Whitefield, Augustus Toplady, and Samuel Walker was not an innovation, but a manifestation of a reinvigorated, living, Calvinist tradition in the Church of England.

From the time of the great Revival of the mid-eighteenth century through to today there has been no lack of professors of the Reformed faith in the Anglican tradition. Folks like Henry Venn, Charles Simeon, C R Sumner, J C Ryle, Charles McIllvaine, William Meade and John Johns all identified with Calvinism, but were unstinting in their devotion to the Church of England or the Protestant Episcopal Church. Growing up in the Church of England I could rely on the fact that about 10% of the clergy, even in a relatively liberal diocese, would be Reformed in regard to their dogmatic theology. Given that pedigree it seems gratuitous to try and exclude those of us who hold to Reformed principles from the Anglican Continuum. However, there are those who have done their best to do so, and such unofficial doctrinal and liturgical 'tests' have done their share to promote schism in the Continuum. This seems a particular pity when one realises the power to convict and convert that has always been God's particular gift to the Evangelical and Reformed clergy of the Anglican Church.

I hope that you have gathered from the remarks I have made above that I regard the Reformed face of Anglicanism not as an anomoly, but as an essential element in our Anglican tradition. Anglicanism has Reformed roots, and when we deny those roots we are in a sense denying who we are. There is no doubt that God has not finished with the Anglican version of the Reformed tradition, but it needs a home. We also need to get back to the old Anglican Evangelicalism, an ordered, discipline, liturgical, but above all Biblical and Refomed tradition offering to men and women the gift of eternal salvation in Christ Jesus. I think it would be good for all of us if we sought out too books by J C Ryle which are intended to strengthen and inspire. The first is entitled 'Christian Leaders of the Eighteenth Century' which gives potted bios of such Anglican Evangelical luminaries as Henry Venn, William Grimshaw, and Daniel Rowlands. The other is 'Old Paths' a collection of essays about the Reformed faith which will do much to clear up any misconception one might have about the nature of the Reformed Faith.