The Real and True Nature of Anglicanism
Our ultimate question does not concern the real and true nature of Anglicanism but the real and true nature of Christianity and as to how well the Anglican tradition of Christian faith comports with the revealed faith of the Lord Jesus Christ. Christendom (faith and institution) is far greater than mere Anglicanism. A minister of the Church of England, for example, is not ordained into the Anglican Communion as such, but into the Church of God. The Church of God is not measured by institutions and statistics, bishops, patriarchs, metropolitans, and jurisdictions but by the reality of faith which only the Lord himself can measure. The visible church and the invisible church are not co- extensive, “For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel” (Romans 9:6). The true Israelite in Old and New Testament terms is the person with the circumcised heart (“No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man’s praise is not from men, but from God” Romans 2:29) and only God can read the heart and count his true people, “The Lord knows who are his” (2 Timothy 2:19).
Externalities, however important, are not of the essence of the Christian faith, but rather union with Christ. The Church of God must be gathered, organized, and administered, but the external phenomenon is not an accurate representation of the true people of God and it consists of “wheat and tares” at every level of participation from leadership through tenuous membership.
The organization is the manifestation of credible adherents. Faith alone identifies those who believe from the “organ of the heart”. Official councils, creeds, clergy have their place but they are only valid when they serve and edify the truly faithful and summon the unbelieving to authentic faith. The religious organization is only reliable and beneficial insofar as it complies with and communicates the gospel, pastors the people of God, and seeks the lost. Fussy obsession with the outward form of the church is simply toying with ecclesiastical paraphernalia, and the assertion of superiority over those not similarly organized (as a low church curate I was placed by the bishop in an Anglo-Catholic parish). Anglicanism knows that there is a fellowship of faith that overlaps denominational boundaries, that there exist various legitimate expressions of the faith of Christ to reflect the multi-faceted revelation of God and the ministry of the Spirit to various needs and circumstances. …
The divine endorsement of this commonly held faith is seen in the sanctification of character and the God-given success in ministry and mission as recorded in church history and Christian biography. Warm-hearted fellowship and holy flexibility among believers as to external organization is a feature of “truly evangelical” Christians (i.e. Biblical) whose primary aspiration is the “showing forth of Christ” (John Donne). The best definition of the catholic (universal) church comes from John Wycliffe. It is the total number of the predestinate. The unity of the Church already exists “in Christ” and in demonstrations of mutual recognition and co-operation. It is a union in truth and love, not jurisdictions, organizations, patriarchates, and provinces, which often behave corruptly and in contradiction of the gospel. Criminality tarnishes many of our religious organizations. The true bride of Christ is bashful and communes with him in the secrecy of the spirit (authentic heart union). “Your life is hid with Christ” (Colossians 3:3)….
As to Calvinism which EO insists we should relinquish, it is commonplace to aver that Calvin was not the originator of the doctrines associated with him. “Calvinism” is a convenient label to attach to the belief of those who adhere to the precious truth of electing love, which is asserted abundantly in Scripture and makes its mark rather conspicuously at various stages of church history according to the church’s clarity of comprehension and its faithfulness to the witness of Scripture. Calvin was a student of the doctrines of grace defended at the second Council of Orange (529) and propounded by many significant pre-Reformational figures including, not in any order, Prosper, Fulgentius, Ratramnus, Gregory the Great, Isidore, Gregory of Rimini, Anselm, Aquinas, Wycliffe, Lombard, Bernard, Hus, etc. Calvin’s principal deceased “tutors” were Augustine and Bernard and his contemporary guides were Luther and Bucer (a former Dominican scholar of the sovereign grace theology of Aquinas). Bucer’s thought and phraseology can be detected in the Institutes. Calvin loved the honey sweet statements of Bernard of Clairvaux, his fellow Frenchman, and Calvin had the soul of a poet ravished by the love of Christ.
The Reformation in England was characterized by the Augustinian emphasis in full accord with the Reformed Catholicism of the Continental leaders of 16th century renewal. It is amazing as to how a selective recitation of English church history cites Jewel, Abbot, and the Carolinian divines approvingly at the expense of a whole bench of 16th century bishops and other theologians such as Cranmer, Ridley, Parker, Whitgift, Grindall, Hooker, Bradford, and Hooper when, in actuality, Jewel and Abbot were like-minded men and also part of the English Calvinistic company.
John Jewel was “coached” by Peter Martyr, an avowed predestinarian, and he anguished over ritualism and especially the little cross retained in Queen Elizabeth’s private chapel. This man, Jewel, was a true Augustinian Protestant whose study of the fathers was intense and extensive but did not allow that their views were unanimous or infallible. “Yet they may not be compared with the word of God. We may not build upon them; we may not make them the foundation and warrant of our conscience; we may not put our trust in them. Our trust is in the name of the Lord . . . . Some things I believe, and some things they write I cannot believe.” Citing Augustine Jewel writes, “We may mislike and refuse somewhat in their writings, if we find that they have thought otherwise than the truth may bear” (Theology of the English Reformers, Philip Edgcumbe Hughes, Horseradish, 1997). The fathers were admirable witnesses to the truth, but not uniformly accurate, and they were not considered authoritative en bloc with Holy Scripture by the English Reformation.
Concerning election, Jewel commented in his Exposition of the Epistles to the Thessalonians (pages 143,144, London 1611); “God hath chosen you from the beginning. His election is sure for ever. The Lord God knoweth who are his. You shall not be deceived with the power and subtlety of anti-christ. You shall not fall from grace. You shall not perish . . . . Let him that standeth take heed that he fall not. But God hath chosen me to salvation. His mercy shall go before me, and his mercy shall follow in me. His mercy shall guide my feet, and stay me from falling. . . . He hath loved me; he hath chosen me; he will keep me. . . . He hath chosen you and prepared you unto salvation, and hath written your names in the book of life. But how may we know that God hath chosen us? how may we see this election? or how may we feel it? the Apostle saith, Through sanctification, and the faith of truth. These are tokens of God’s election. This (viz. the Holy Spirit) comforteth us in all temptations; and beareth witness with our spirit that we be the children of God; that God hath chosen us: and doth love us, and hath prepared us to salvation; that we are the heirs of his glory; that God will keep us as the apple of his eye; that he will defend us; and we shall not perish”. The Reformers testified to continuity with the fathers but not complete agreement, which the fathers did not enjoy among themselves. They need to be approached with due discernment.
According to R.E.D. Clark in his article on George Abbot in the New International Dictionary of the Christian Church the Archbishop preceding William Laud, who bitterly opposed him with his fellow High Churchmen, was the outstanding leader of the English Calvinists with strong sympathies towards the Puritan party. In fact, until the Laudian domination of the church, and for a time afterwards, Anglicans and Puritans (many of whom remained in the national church) agreed in the matter of soteriology (yes, Augustinian monergism) and differed only over ritual and church polity. Marchette Chute in her volume entitled, Two Gentlemen: The Lives of George Herbert and Robert Herrick, points out that most English Protestants in Herbert’s day were brought up as Calvinists. Such was Herbert, and so he remained, assuring Andrew Melville the Scottish church leader, and obviously Calvinist, that though he attacked him on church services his doctrine of the sovereignty of God in salvation was the same: “Who gives to man, as he sees fit, }Salvation. }Damnation.”
John Donne was similarly in conflict with the Puritans over liturgy and church government, but as William H. Halewood demonstrates in, The Poetry of Grace: Reformation Themes and Structures in English Seventeenth-Century Poetry, Donne’s theology of grace was identical to that of the Puritans. As regards the operation of faith in the penitent sinner Donne observes, “No man can prepare that worke, no man can begin it, no man can proceed in it of himselfe. The desire and actual beginning is from the preventing grace of God” (Sermons, 2, 305).
Calvinism is intrinsic to the fabric of Anglicanism and any vendetta against Calvin himself cannot erase this historical and theological fact. Anglicanism is drenched with Augustinianism. To impugn Calvin is to besmirch the reputation of Jesus Christ whom the Genevan Reformer exalts so greatly, highly, effectively, and affectionately.
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.