When the neighborhood Anglican Church starts another Baptist Bible study.
Photos from Pixabay.com
When the neighborhood Anglican Church starts another Baptist Bible study.
Photos from Pixabay.com
I think Anglicanism looks most distinctive, at least to Americans, when it is contrasted with Puritanism, in part because America was influenced much more by the Puritans than by the Roman Catholics.
The Puritans and the Roman Catholics are relevant because Anglicanism was designed to be neither Puritan nor Roman Catholic.
Here’s a good witness for my case: Jaroslav Pelikan, the late Yale University historian of Christianity, who was acknowledged in many corners of Christendom as a scholar with a good grasp of the faith’s doctrinal and theological developments and changes.
In his book Reformation of Church and Dogma, which is Volume 4 in his five-book set The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine, Pelikan gives the following interpretation of Richard Hooker (1554-1600) and his book Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity.
Hooker acknowledged that there were many doctrines, including the Trinity, that were “in Scripture nowhere to be found by express literal mention, only deduced they are out of Scripture by collection.” Yet that did not detract from “the sufficiency of Scripture unto the end for which it was instituted,” so long as one recognized what that end was — and what it was not. It was the knowledge of salvation, but it was not a detailed “ordinance of Jesus Christ” about the specific arrangements of ecclesiastical polity. These were to be known from the laws of reason and nature; for “when supernatural duties are necessarily exacted, natural are not rejected as needless,” and the law of God included both. Therefore it was a mistake, in the name of “a desire to enlarge the necessary use of the word of God,” to hold that “only one law, the Scripture, must be the rule to direct in all things,” when in fact “God hath left sundry kinds of laws unto men, and by all those laws the actions of men are in some sort directed.” (boldface added)
This should reveal Hooker’s belief in a reasonable exercise of reason, as well as an appreciation for traditional Christian beliefs that were handed down through practice and belief — yet not found spelled-out in Scripture.
When Hooker, within Pelikan’s paraphrase, said Scripture “was not a detailed ‘ordinance of Jesus Christ’,” he took exception to a point of view represented by the Puritans.
As quoted before on this blog, Professor David L. Holmes suggests that in the time of Thomas Cranmer (1489-1556), the Prayer Book author who died two years after Hooker was born, the Puritans were uncomfortable with any exercise of reason or acknowledgement of tradition in church beliefs, practices, and offices:
The Puritan party, which desired biblical warrant for all beliefs, practices, and offices of a Christian church, viewed the Prayer Book as a half-way house to true reform and objected that it retained practices that were unscriptural.
In contrast, Anglicanism and the Church of England were distinct largely because of the English liturgy as found in the Book of Common Prayer. The Puritans, according to Holmes, disliked the Book of the Common Prayer!
Furthermore, Hooker’s Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, as described above by Pelikan, opposes the Puritan premise as described by Holmes. Hooker’s book, according to Pelikan, was “an apologia for the unique features of the Anglican settlement.”
We ought to register a significant difference between Anglicanism and the Puritan point of view.
This significant difference was not unique to Hooker. Professor William C. Placher, as I quoted elsewhere, said of Thomas Cranmer, author of the Book of Common Prayer:
His interests lay less in systematic theology than in church history, especially the history of liturgy, and in writing the Book of Common Prayer he produced the foundation of much English religion and one of the glories of English prose.
Keep in mind that evangelical Christianity in the United States has largely shared the Puritan suspicion of reason and tradition. As Philip J. Lee writes,
The Puritan changes often brought the New England theology perilously close to gnostic Christianity. Of particular concern is the Puritans’ concentration on the self and their tendency to regard humanity from an elitist perspective.
That’s from Lee’s book, Against the Protestant Gnostics.
Please also see:
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.
Update: See this post about the leader of a Bible-based cult who was given two consecutive life sentences in Durham, N.C., on July 5, 2013.
Sustain your “Orthodox Anglican” identity by embracing Bible-thumping primitivism.
Ignore each chance for thoughtful engagement and instead force the false choice of heretical liberalism or fundamentalist quote-mongering.
I want to explain why these are the take-away lessons from the document entitled “A Conflict of Beliefs: Orthodox Anglicanism and The Episcopal Church.”
(The document isn’t especially new, although it was recently given some renewed exposure by someone in my county. I find the underlying lack-of-thinking especially annoying.)
Read the document, linked above, or briefly revisit it. Consider the possible reasons why The Episcopal Church leaders make some of their statements. Then, consider these brief points:
1. Scholarship — yea, even conservative, traditionalist scholarship — has illuminated and contextualized books of the Holy Bible and its (human) writers. “A Conflict of Beliefs” pits liberal, progressive, yea even heretical scholarly views against the primary source material.
In other words, the document is a comparison of apples to apple fritters and apple tarts and artificially-flavored-10-percent-real-fruit-deep-fried-pre-packaged apple pie snacks.
Why not answer scholars with scholars? Because the Bible is adequate? Sure it is — read No. 2.
2. Snake-handlers in the Appalachians support their practice with Scripture, with Biblical authority, taking the language in its plainest sense and applying it to their lives. What does that have to do with “A Conflict of Beliefs”? Well, having gone to various types of Christian schools and churches my entire life, I would like to testify that snake-handlers have everything to do with the silliness behind “A Conflict of Beliefs.” That’s because in less audacious areas of life, evangelicals (and “Orthodox Anglicans”?) do the same types of things based on the same near-drought levels of Scriptural warrant, and encourage others to do so, too. Should the snake-handlers interpret things differently? Really? So you’re making an interpretive move against the plain sense of Scripture? Kind of like The Episcopal Church leadership quoted in “A Conflict of Beliefs”? Sure, it’s not the same thing, is it?
So why not provide some context from contemporary scholars or theologians — pick your favorite seminary, heck, pick your favorite Presbyterian — who can use context and explanation for “Orthodox Anglican” views?
By the way, the Appalachian snake-handlers are not fully compliant with Luke 10:19, which in the New International Version reads, “I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you.” I’m not sure if snake-handlers trample on snakes, but at least they’ve obtained the means for obedience. But I’ve never seen or heard of them messing with scorpions. Perhaps grace-filled living would spur me to realize scorpions don’t live in the Appalachians.
3. Satan quoted Scripture to Jesus (Luke 4:9-11). Satan encouraged Jesus to take the Scriptures authoritatively. How funny that the only thing “A Conflict of Beliefs” encourages us to do is to follow Satan’s lead, with only three brief exceptions of the 39 Articles and a quotation from an ex-Episcopalian minister. Honestly, the inclusion of the 39 Articles and the minister’s quotation seem out of place — they aren’t Bible verses! After so many Bible verses, who even needs the 39 Articles or the minister?
For that matter, who needs anything in the Book of Common Prayer? Who needs any commentaries? Who needs any scholarship? Who needs any sermons or homilies? Who needs a Bible dictionary or a concordance?
These things just get in the way of Bible-thumping primitivism.
And let’s face it. Once you’ve made liberalism and liberals the target, you can use the Bible to usher-in all kinds of not-liberalism. The Bible can say anything you want it to say, and I guess that’s fine by “Orthodox Anglicans.”
Aside from the beauty of Southwark Cathedral and an Anglican-raised actor known for Band of Brothers and NBC’s canceled Life, Damien Lewis, sitting on the second row, I was amazed at how well the service involved what must have been nearly 100 children. The cathedral almost sounded like a zoo at moments, with frequent sounds of little ones chattering and crying throughout the cathedral, although never so loud that the noise disrupted the service. The little ones in attendance were summoned, in groups, to the front at various times during the service, orchestrated by a roving lady with a microphone. Meanwhile, the minister at the front succeeded in bringing everyone to relative quiet when it was time for little lecturers to read passages from the Bible.
A children’s choir led the music. The hymns we sung acknowledged human sin, the need for a savior, and the divinity of Jesus, including these polished lines:
Silent night, holy night
Son of God, love’s pure light
radiance beams from thy holy face
with the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord at thy birth.
As wonderful as the service was, I’m thinking about something that happened before it started. Sitting in my chair, close to a pillar at the end of a row, I noticed an icon of Jesus, barely larger than a sheet from a pad of legal paper, mounted above a rack of little candles set against the next pillar ahead. The icon was wrought so that the face of Jesus, in simple form, expressed sorrowful, knowing, welcoming eyes. After a few moments’ focus, the face evoked in me the words of Matthew 11:28 — “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
Rest — from guilt, shame, and the competitions of this world — is the blessing we gain from the Incarnation, is the comfort of God-with-us, who experienced human life and understands it. Merry Christmas.
Will offers a relevant comment by the late Fr. Peter Toon here.
In this otherwise not-so-bad note, the Rev. Clayton Morris, liturgical officer for The Episcopal Church, mistakenly turns the secondary reasons for Holy Communion into the primary reasons:
Why does the church gather around a table with food and drink in its primary act of worship? Because God calls the church to a ministry of reconciliation. The church is called to restore the dignity of creation. It is all about feeding and being fed. It is all about making certain that all God’s children are safe, whole and nourished. The ritual breaking of bread in the midst of the assembly reminds us of our task while it embodies its reality.