One of my previous posts, “‘Biblical Anglicans’ as the ‘one-third Anglicans’,” was designed to argue against the phrase “Biblical Anglicans.”
I gave some evidence — from scholars — for Anglicanism being a type of Christianity based on Scripture, Reason, and Tradition. I asked, essentially, why just Scripture?
I also said the Puritan desire to base everything in church on Scripture had the problem of Church (and churches) existing before the Bible was completely canonized. Church life, ritual, and worship existed before Christians could refer to a Bible.
Here, I want to look at excerpts of the definition of Anglicanism in the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (second edition).
This word properly applies to the system of doctrine and practice upheld by those Christians who are in religious communion with the see of Canterbury.
Pause. Note the word “properly.” But like the word “biblical,” the word “Anglican” can mean nearly anything these days.
But it is esp. used, in a somewhat more restricted sense, of that system in so far as it emphasizes its claim to possess a religious outlook distinguishable from that of other Christian communions both Catholic and Protestant.
I’ll confess: at times, I think the self-identified “Biblical Anglicans” are stealth Congregationalists, Baptists, or Presbyterians. I know that’s not accurate, having not long ago visited an Angl0-Catholic parish that is part of the Bishop Lawrence diocese of ex-Episcopalian Anglicans — or should that be Anglican ex-Episcopalians? Which should be the adjective and which the noun? I’ll stop. Let’s get back to the definition.
The 17th cent., however, was the golden age of Anglicanism…the Church of England at once confirmed her rejection of the claims of Rome and refused to adopt the theological system of the Reformers.
With a sincerely good-natured pat on the backs of some friends, I must confess I had been led to believe Anglicanism was the theological system of the Reformers. Good grief — who does Oxford University Press have writing and editing their dictionaries these days?
The historic episcopate was preserved, even though many, e.g. R. Hooker (the greatest of the Elizabethans), did not regard it as of divine institution.
See there? Hooker has given you an out. You can be a Congregationalist and an Anglican at the same time.
The legitimacy, and to some degree even the necessity, of ecclesiastical development was not denied, but its extent was held to be limited by the appeal to Scripture, as containing all things necessary to eternal salvation.
There you go. This let them off the Roman hook — you didn’t need the Official Church for salvation.
However, looked at from another angle, it also became a kind of concluding point for some people: Scripture contains all things necessary to eternal salvation, so why mess with anything else? That doesn’t only illuminate the Biblical Anglican’s occasional disinterest in liturgy, ritual, and aesthetics. It also illuminates why big evangelistic organizations can raise money more easily than local homeless shelters and soup kitchens. Recall the salvific campaign of Bill Clinton and his appropriation of Fleetwood Mac’s “Don’t Stop (Thinking About Tomorrow).” Today sucks — but there’s always eternity! Blessings and be on your way!
Truth was therefore sought from the joint testimony of Scripture and ecclesiastical authority, which in its turn was to be based on the traditions of the first four centuries.
In that last excerpt, you can easily see the Scripture, Reason, and Tradition formula. (Take a look at the definition for “reason” in the ecclesiastical context.) Notice, too, that the “first four centuries” was approximately the length of time before a basic biblical canon began to take shape.