Monday, June 26, 2017

Low Churchmanship

It occurred to me the other day that the term 'Low Church' is just as much of a putty nose as 'High Church.' Over the centuries it has been used to describe those who were for the exclusion of James, Duke of York from the English throne, and minimized the differences between Churchmen and Dissenters; it has been used for the 18th century Latitudinarians; 19th century Evangelicals; and early 20th century Liberals - at least here in the USA - or the so-called Virginia Churchmanship. In the later 20th century, Low Church began to reacquire some of the Evangelical connotations it had before, but this time tinged with the Charismatic Movement. That said, the neo-Evangelicals do tend to use the Evangelical label for themselves, rather than the old Low Church label - perhaps because the older leaders of ACNA and AMiA still remember when "Low Church" meant liberal. In the UK, where I grew up, Low Churchmanship could mean either mild Evangelicalism, or what I have heard described as "Liverpool Low" a sort of Prayer Book Protestantism that still has a memory of being Evangelical long ago, which one also used to find quite widely in parts of Ireland.

In the last 50 years, liberalism has generally drifted higher in churchmanship, with ceremonial replacing doctrine as Liberalism has drifted further from historic Christianity. In most dioceses in the USA, the old Low Church liberals have been replaced among the clergy by women and men who are largely broad in ceremonial, and Revisionist in theology with "the culture" having at least as much influence as Scripture, Tradition, and Reason in the formation of their theological opinions - or the lack of them. However, the old Liberalism still respected Scripture, whilst accepting open inquiry as to its history, origins, and meaning, and could say the Apostles' and Nicene Creeds with more-or-less a straight face. This is a long way from where a large part of the Episcopal Church is today. There liberalism of a William Lawrence or a Henry Knox Sherrill is a long way from that of a Frank Griswold or a Catherine Jefferts-Schori, not least because it accepted the fundamental validity and rightness of Western Christian culture, and of a Classical education. Today's liberals seem to be locked into the tyranny of Relativism, and a major collective guilt-trip about being white, wealthy, and western to the extent that they seem to want to commit theological, cultural, and economic suicide.

Personally, I tend to view Low Churchmanship in terms of what it owes to both "rational orthodoxy" and, at a distance, Evangelicalism. Please note that when I say 'Evangelical' I mean the religion of Moore, Meade, and Ryle - a moderate, evangelizing, Calvinism based upon the Bible, the Articles, and the BCP - NOT American style revivalism. This makes a huge difference because it means that it is a form of Evangelicalism that is not dominated by subjective feelings with a limited theology based upon the Bible, but the evangelical expression of the great Augustinian theological tradition in its Calvinistic variant. In short it is Evangelicalism with a fully developed theology, which although it encompasses the Biblicism, Crucicentrism, Activism, and emphasis on Conversion that is common among all Evangelicals, it has a solid theological foundation. In some respects this preoccupation with theology has been both the glory and the curse of old-school Anglican Evangelicalism. A lot of people seem to live on their emotions, and as a result of this the order and restraint of Anglicanism seem foreign, but on the other hand, this orderly approach to Evangelicalism has produced some great "saints" such as William Wilberforce, John Newton, Henry Martyn, and a host of others who strove valiantly for the cause of Christ.

One thing that seems more needful today than ever is an Evangelicalism that is theologically rooted. Much of what passes for Evangelical, or more accurately Revivalist, religion in the USA today is not in any meaningful sense Christian even though it claims the name. Joel Olsteen, Benny Hinn, and many of the popular TV revivalists pedal a religion which embraces one of more of the major Christian heresies of the first Four Centuries, and is as much theatre as anything else. I guess one can say it is a case of zeal without discernment, and certainly without theology. It is the religion of emotion, and that religion of emotion will not survive well when the inevitable intellectual conflict with Islam arises in our local communities. Ill-catechised Christians will be easy meat for Islamic proselytizers, just as they are for the door-knockers Mormon and Jehovah Witnesses. I wonder how long it will be before I get someone on my doorstep who introduces himself as 'Bubba Ali' and tells me that he is from the Staunton Mosque and would like to talk to me about Jesus...