ANGLICANISM ADRIFT: BACK TO OUR CONSTITUTION
By Roger Salter
Special to Virtueonline
December 12, 2013
It is clear that the current narrative of Anglicanism is an inestimably sad one. Organizationally in North America there is yet no significant or coherent entity capable of turning back the tide of defection. There is seemingly deep concern on a broad scale over the continuing drift, and there are encouraging developments at embryonic stages which may increase in future influence, but at the present time there is no clear sign that substantive Scriptural and Reformational re-ordering within the Communion is about to be enterprised. Anglo-Catholicism appears to have the grip on ecclesiastical administration and direction, and Charismaticism seems to exert the appeal for enthusiastic newcomers of younger years. The latter trend, with a strong emphasis on experience and emotion, presents a doctrinally diluted version of Evangelicalism. The critical issue for Anglicanism is the issue of identity. How is the authentic Anglican Way to be defined?
To be a Christian means to be associated with the company of the people of God. Given that there are many valid options thoughtful believers will be drawn into the fellowship of a worshipping community that in their estimation best satisfies biblical criteria for the service of God and the wellbeing of the soul. Priorities will be objectively and subjectively weighed. Reason and emotion will inevitably play their part. Prayer will be more than mere lip service to the practice. But when the decision is made in the most mature manner possible it becomes a duty to acquaint oneself with the foundation, historic character, and distinctives of the body to which one has become voluntarily attached. Christians discern something worthy within each of the orthodox traditions that comprise the Lord's vast family. Our common homage to Christ, and confidence in him, is the unitive factor. Nonetheless, the treasures of his grace are too numerous to be confined to one sector of his church and they are distributed throughout. The believer chooses as most congenial the place of nurture where Christ is most clearly seen. Truth and temperament need to be aligned. There is liberty in Christ that ministers to people of different cast in intellect and feeling.
However, with attachment to a particular movement there comes general assent to its convictions and customs and a loyalty of adherence. Improvement and development are always on the agenda, for the church that is under the guidance of God is always in the process of reform and growth toward the pure truth of divine revelation. If the foundations are sound, tested, proven, derived as best possible from the Word of God, exemplifying the unshakeable verities of the knowledge of God and his salvation it follows that all forward movement in doctrine and behavior should be consistent with the received biblical basis. Fundamental disagreements arising in the minds of individuals can be resolved by the submission of fair-minded recommendation to church authorities and, in the case of non-settlement, concluded by transfer of membership to a more likeminded body or denomination. Deliberate disruption or confessional defection are to be avoided for the sake of unity. "Isms" are secondary within the Christian community and major differences can be satisfied within the variety of choices available to persons of sincere faith.
In the light of these considerations the choice of Anglicanism ought to entail a real desire to listen to the true voice of Anglicanism. A Free Church, Baptistic, Pentecostal, or Roman inclination can be fulfilled in fellowships of these types without seeking to transform the essence of Anglican being. Fellowship with Christ is not thereby broken and ecumenical fellowship on an honest basis with mutual respect for differences can be readily facilitated. Integrity is required in our preferences for association and therefore Anglicans are obliged to sustain the integrity of their tradition. We are to preserve our foundation, know our constitution, and cherish our heritage, and, embracing all the these blessings, employ them creatively for the promulgation of the Gospel we love to lost and disillusioned souls we are called to love. Everything of value has its roots, but severed from those roots the values are lost. Anglicanism needs to be regrafted into its Scriptural and Augustinian origins.
Those precious origins are delineated and confessed in the contents of what we call the BCP 1662 (Prayer Book, Ordinal, and Articles of Religion). We know that Holy Scripture suffices for the formation of our views and the nourishing of our spiritual life, but so many constructions are imposed on Scripture, dubious interpretations derived from it, so many abuses committed, all claiming Scriptural warrant, that we are frank enough to declare where we stand as regards Scripture, the knowledge of its wisdom and the pastoral administration of its benefits and obligations. Our position is subject to everybody's scrutiny. If our position is professedly adopted then let that profession be sincere and let the smuggling in of alien elements cease. We know the position of our Reformers and Framers of our constitution. Grammar and history guide us to safe and certain conclusions. Our Founders were Protestant and they were Reformed in the classic Augustinian, Buceran, Cranmerian, Calvinistic sense. We should not shrink apologetically from our true identity. Courtesy often drives us to unnecessary concessions - concessions that are not usually willed or wrung from dissenters from our positions. We are accused of being "troublers": so, too, were prophets and apostles. We bear no malice or harbor desire for controversy, but what truth has not engendered controversy? If it comes we handle it manfully and mercifully, as much as God allows. The trouble with Anglicanism so often is its false gentility (an English trait).
So far, a strong contingent of "Cranmerians" has not emerged. But a seed or two have been planted. We care not so much for the name, which we view with high and affectionate regard, but rather the God-given convictions. Everyone's faith is nurtured by human instrumentalities. The super-spiritual ones among us endeavour to deny this and consequently are left to their own devices and deprivation. The incarnational principle indicates that God ministers to us through means and people of his gifting, through whom he condescends to operate. Unfortunately Gnosticism often intrudes into Christian spirituality. All believers are indwelt and instructed by the Spirit, but some lay claim to a privileged hot-wire to God (exclusive private line) that precludes others and all helpful means and human mediation, but in reality this happens to be a circuit confined to their own heads. Individualistic piety is the bane of Christendom. We do enjoy intimacy with Christ at a profound and personal level, yet we are a mutually dependent fellowship sharing various facets of truth and experience of Christ. Our forbears created an invaluable legacy for us to use as God's pastoral provision. No generation should be cut off from those that preceded it. They have much to pass on and they leave a legacy of wisdom that should never be lost.
Unless Anglicanism diligently returns to its roots it will flounder and fail. It is a sorry and confused specimen at the present. We do not stand in need of the flummery of excessive ritual, clericalism, and "dressed up to the nines" bishops and their colorfully robed minions congregating around tables falsely called altars. Our dire need is for men of the Word and the historic faith who will administer the sacraments, ordinances, means of grace in a Scriptural and simple way, sharing humbly in the journey of the saints. Sacramentalism supplies an idolatry in rivalry to Christ. The Mass of Roman or Anglo-catholicism supplants him, and reverencing "altar" and elements is to turn from God in Christ as surely as Israel committed idolatry with the brazen serpent. Episcopacy is the least needed accoutrement of Anglicanism - valued but not vital to its existence. The Gospel is the one thing essential and to that we should return with a will.
The Rev. Roger Salter is an ordained Church of England minister where he had parishes in the dioceses of Bristol and Portsmouth before coming to Birmingham, Alabama to serve as Rector of St. Matthew's Anglican Church. He is a regular contributor to Virtueonline
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