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Martyred for the Gospel

Martyred for the Gospel
The burning of Tharchbishop of Cant. D. Tho. Cranmer in the town dich at Oxford, with his hand first thrust into the fyre, wherwith he subscribed before. [Click on the picture to see Cranmer's last words.]

Collect of the Day

The Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany.
The Collect.

O LORD, we beseech thee to keep thy Church and household continually in thy true religion; that they who do lean only upon the hope of thy heavenly grace may evermore be defended by thy mighty power; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Daily Bible Verse

Monday, September 19, 2005

Can We Be Confessional and Catholic? Prospects for Christian Unity Today

In an article about the hopes for an Evangelical unity among visible churches, Michael Horton made these comments about the state of Anglicanism today:

  • Another conversation that has yet to take place is between confessional Reformed churches and Anglican bodies. Once again, historical circumstances have played a large hand in divisions. In the aftermath of the Reformation, debate eventually erupted over the proper ministerial order, otherwise known as church polity. Does Scripture require a particular form of government and if so, which one? Advocates of Episcopal, Presbyterian, and eventually also Congregational government, despite their shared Reformed conviction, ended up “unchurching” each other principally because in a state church situation there cannot be competing polities. What if we tried to distinguish the historical circumstances from the real issues involved in church government? Wouldn’t the conversation look a little different today? Even if we believe that such polity is most conformable to Scripture, are there any Presbyterians today, even in our circles, who believe that only churches with Presbyterian government are true churches?

  • It has often been said that the Episcopal Church (daughter of the Church of England) has “a Calvinist creed, an Arminian clergy, and a Roman Catholic liturgy.” Today its slide into a vague cultural liberalism is widely recognized within its own ranks. Nevertheless, there is still a strong evangelical tradition that continues to thrive in England, Africa, and Asia. John Stott, Alister McGrath, and Jonathan Fletcher in England, J. I. Packer in Canada, and the entire Archdiocese of Sydney, Australia, represent this vital strand in English-speaking countries. In the United States, there remain key leaders within the Episcopal Church who seek to recall their denomination to the ecumenical creeds and the Reformed theology of the “Thirty-Nine Articles.” Among the names one thinks immediately of Paul Zahl (a regular MR contributor) and the now-retired Bishop of South Carolina, C. Fitzsimons Allison (another contributor). Grassroots ecumenism is alive and well and should be encouraged, while ecclesiastical unity is unlikely. However, what about the Reformed Episcopal Church (U.S.), the Church of England in South Africa, or other churches in Africa and Asia that have formed their own denominations or jurisdictions? These, of course, are merely questions, not answers. [http://www.modernreformation.org/mh05unity.htm]

I would disagree that Anglicans have a "Roman Catholic" liturgy. Horton obviously does not understand the reforms Archbishop Thomas Cranmer made to the liturgy when he formulated the services for the Book of Common Prayer. However, at least he recognizes that the Thirty-Nine Articles are moderately Calvinistic and solidly Protestant.

In view of the issues tearing the Anglican Communion apart these days, it would do Anglicans well if those committed to the English Reformation and to an Evangelical and Protestant interpretation of the Prayer Book and the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion could come together. With the threat of Anglo-Catholicism on the right and theological liberalism on the left, the Gospel is in danger of being lost altogether in the Anglican Communion. A truly Anglican tradition embraces a high church liturgy that is thoroughly Reformed and Protestant, while at the same time rejecting the extremes of Anglo-Catholicism which wishes to neutralize the reforms of the English Reformation. Additionally, a truly Anglican tradition will also reject an extreme Puritanism that neglects the Prayer Book and a catholic liturgy in line with a Protestant understanding of apostolic tradition and universally held doctrine.

Too many Anglicans of the Reformed persuasion, read "Protestant and moderately Calvinistic," have neglected their responsibility to counter the threats of doctrinal error within their communion. Those errors include universalism, socianism, pelagianism, semi-pelagianism, and Anglo-Catholicism. In discussing "Reformed" Anglicanism we ought to stop muddying the waters by referring to "Reformed Catholicism" as though Arminianism and, worse, Anglo-Catholicism, were acceptable as the Anglican view. Clearly Arminianism is not an out and out heresy since it doesn't deny justification by faith alone. However, the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion are not Arminian. On the contrary, the Articles of Religion are calvinistic. On this point, John Wesley did the Anglican church a great disservice.

If there is any hope for the future of the Anglican communion, it lies with those who are committed to the Holy Scriptures as the final authority for faith and practice and to the traditional editions of the Prayer Book. Any hope for the future of Anglicanism lies with those confessional Anglicans who accept the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion as the Anglican confession of faith. Anything less is to compromise the brave English Reformers who literally gave their lives for the sake of the Gospel.

But the bottom line is that we must be faithful to the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the midst of controversy and while the very existence of the Anglican church is under attack by the enemy. As Michael Horton remarks in the context of Reformed unity:

  • Being confessional is not a guarantee that we are actually confessing “the faith once and for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). Talking to and arguing among ourselves is sometimes necessary, but only for the purpose of having something to say to the world on God’s behalf. Getting the gospel right is pointless if we do not get the gospel out, and mission is inextricably linked to ecumenism. After all, the mission entrusted to the church as an institution is not to form a theological circle, nor to transform culture, but to proclaim the gospel in Word and Sacrament and to care for the flock our Shepherd has gathered by that ministry.

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