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Anglicanism: Its Past and Promise - Tory Baucum

Anglicanism: Its Past and Promise

by The Rev. Dr. Tory Baucum
January 15, 2011

Luther was once asked how he started the Reformation. In his characteristic florid style, Luther replied, "I did not start the reformation. All I did was preach the word of God and drink beer. The Word of God did the reforming."

Similarly, Dr. Otto Piper of Princeton Seminary once admonished his students in this way:

We make a mistake when we think that Luther and Calvin produced the Reformation. What produced the Reformation was that Luther studied the Word of God. And as he studied it, it began to explode in him. And when it began to explode inside him he did not know any better than to let it loose on Germany. The same was true of Calvin.

The tragedy of the Reformation was that when Luther and Calvin died, Melanchthon and Beza edited their works. And so all the Lutherans began to read the Bible to find Luther and all the Calvinists read the Bible to find Calvin. And the great corruption was on its way. Do you know there is enough undiscovered truth in the Bible to produce a Reformation and evangelical Awakening in every generation, if we only expose ourselves to it until it explodes in us and we let it loose?

Anglicanism shares in this larger movement of reform. It began as an indigenous reform movement of the 15th and 16th centuries that was let loose by Latimer, Ridley, and Cranmer, but was co-opted by a politically opportunistic King (something, of course, that never happens in our age.).

Despite this checkered beginning, Anglicanism remains a reform movement within the larger body of Western Christendom. In subsequent centuries it has spawned smaller reform movements such as the Wesleyan revival in the 18th century, the Oxford movement in the 19th century and most recently the Alpha movement in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

Each of these Anglican renewal movements has three defining doctrinal emphases, which together constitute the full power of Christian salvation: original sin (everyone needs a Savior, not just a coach), justifying grace (such a Savior and His salvation has been given to us without our merit) and sanctifying grace (the salvation that is offered to us is transformational, not merely transactional. That is, it must be personally and continually appropriated). The surface differences between Methodism, the Oxford movement and Alpha should not obscure this shared Anglican doctrinal DNA.

Like the other Protestant reformers, Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer, was a Catholic who yearned to see the Medieval Church reformed according to these three-fold emphases. The Church of England, like the Reformation churches in Europe, was simply an attempt to re-Christianize Christendom by reintroducing to the Church the full power of Christian salvation.

The reformer's goal was making new Christians, not Cranmerians nor even Lutherans or Calvinists. Where the various Reformation Churches differed was in the strategy and tactics they employed to achieve this common goal of re-Christianization.

Somewhere else, I have explained the relationship between Anglicanism and the Reformation Churches:

Anglicanism was an indigenous reform movement which shared many features of the Continental reformation: gospel liberty, biblical literacy and ecclesiastical downsizing. At its early stages, the reform was a synthesis of Erasmus' strategy of learning and Bucer's concern for parish-based discipline, both of which were grafted onto Luther's rediscovery of justification by faith as the root transaction between God and humans. This discovery of Luther was due, in part, to his rediscovery of Augustine's doctrine of grace...A variety of scholars were stimulated to a new perception of Augustine by the first scholarly printed edition of his work which began to appear in the late 15th century. The impact of this discovery cannot be overemphasized.

This common patrimony in Augustine is an essential part of our Church's identity. In his 1562 defense of Anglicanism, "Apology of the Church of England," John Jewel relied extensively on the Fathers but quoted St. Augustine far more than any other Father of the Church to make his case. We Anglicans highly esteem the Bible as the Word of God, the norm of Christian faith, but we Anglicans also know the Bible cannot be read in a vacuum.

Everyone reads the Bible from some standpoint or tradition. Anglicans acknowledge, up front, that we read the Bible through the lens of the early Church. And Augustine was the epitome of the early Church. It is not an overstatement to say that Anglicans are essentially reformed Augustinians, keeping original sin, grace and sanctification as the integrating touchstones of our doctrine of salvation.

This reformist character of Anglicanism - defined by its Augustinian interplay of original sin, grace and sanctification - not only outlines our historical beginnings, but also illumines how modern Anglicanism "got off the rails" in North America.

The Episcopal Church spawned two quasi-theological movements in the past two centuries: Liberalism in the 19th century and the Charismatic renewal in the 20th century. Unfortunately, neither Liberalism nor Charismatic renewal rotated entirely around this Anglican theological universe.

Liberalism upheld grace, but neglected (and sometimes outright denied) original sin and sanctification. The Charismatic renewal upheld original sin and sanctification, but often neglected grace (especially in its justifying phase). Each generated its own constellation of theological shooting stars but neither illuminated the full power of salvation. Thus, neither was evangelistically fruitful.

American Christendom was not re-Christianized by the Episcopal Church. I believe the new Province of Anglicanism must appropriate the theological heritage outlined above in order to fulfill its full redemptive potential. American Christendom needs to be re-Christianized. At our best, we Anglicans are a reformed and reforming movement of Catholic Christians, devoted to the historic faith and practice of the early church.

We possess both a form (sacramental Christianity) and meaning (evangelical Christianity) that speaks to the anomie in the post-modern American soul. It is now time to thoughtfully reengage the Word of God until that Word explodes in us and we simply "let it loose" in North America. If we do, I would not be surprised to see the next Great Awakening emerge from within our communion of Churches.

----The Rev. Dr. Tory Baucum is rector of Truro Church, in Truro, Virginia

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