Monday, 25 August 2014

My convoluted journey into Confessional Anglicanism.

            I am proud to be able to say that I am a Confessional Anglican.  I treat the 39 Articles as my confession of faith, their sound and solid interpretation of the Biblical faith inspires and guides me.  I believe that Confessional Anglicanism, especially of the sort that dominated the church in the pre-Caroline era, is the best presentation of the Biblical faith that exists.  I did not always think this, and I was not raised in a way that would lead me to see things this way.  Instead, I have been taken on a long journey through many different church experiences.  God has met, blessed, and grown me in each and every one of them - but compared to the truths I now know, I now feel, they have been but trickling streams compared to the Niagara Falls.

            Charles Spurgeon once said "It is a great thing to begin the Christian life by believing good solid doctrine. Constant change of creed is sure loss.  If a tree has to be taken up two or three times a year, you will not need to build a very large loft in which to store the apples.  When people are always shifting their doctrinal principles, they are not likely to bring forth much fruit to the glory of God.  It is good for young believers to begin with a firm hold upon those great fundamental doctrines which the Lord has taught in his Word."  (C.H. Spurgeon: a defence of Calvinism p.1)
            I have changed my 'creed' a number of times.  Each time I did I always had issues, I always had reservations - and I never truly bore much fruit to the glory of God.  I no longer have such reservations, my faith is firmly planted, well watered, well fertilised, it is growing.  Fruit is coming forth such as I could never have imagined.  Never has God been more glorified in my life than He is under the creed of the 39 Articles - gospel based, creedaly catholic, evangelical to the core, Protesting the errors of ritualism and works based righteousness with equal vigour, confidently Reformed, and yet Biblically free in expression.  I am convinced with a conviction I have never had before, I am certain with a certainty I have never been able to express, I am resolute with a concrete resolution - I am safe, I am secure, I am blessed here in the garden of the best (but by no means perfect) expression of The Faith yet expressed: Classical Confessional Anglicanism.
            As I said, this was not always the case.

"Never has God been more glorified in my life than He is under the creed of the 39 Articles"

            I grew up in a small village in East Yorkshire in the United Kingdom. I was baptised at the local Church of England church - St. Albans.  I must confess that I have a peculiarly poor memory of my younger life.  My Dad was in hospital a lot during my youth and so my Mum raised me with a lot of help from my Great Aunt Essie, and my Grandparents.  My Mum took me to the local church each Sunday or at least occasionally - the only thing I remember though is being given sweets and getting very bored during the intercessions.  My Great Aunt was a Baptist prayer warrior who helped out with the Billy Graham crusades in the UK.  She would often read me Bible stories and I know that she held me up in prayer more than I can imagine but I cannot recall or discern any real impact she has had on my faith journey beyond those prayers being answered in abundance. 
            Whilst at Primary School the parents of one of the teaching assistants started up a church in the Village Hall.  Meg and David along with their daughter Melanie led a lively, child friendly, evangelical church.  She got more kids into church and weekly Bible study than anyone in the area.  Regretfully they had to close down the church due to hate and vitriol from the members of other more established churches who disliked the free-church and felt it was stealing their children and radicalising them.  I am certain it is from Meg and David that I gained my early conviction that the Bible is the true and infallible word of God.   After they closed down I began going to a kids bible group at the Anglican vicarage in the nearby town as Sylvia the Vicars wife of that place was the Reader-in-Charge of our parishes.  It was during this time I got confirmed by the bishop for the first time (!).

            At the age of 14 my Great Aunt died.  I never stopped believing in a God, I just decided that He was a mean bully who I was better off without.  To be honest my conception of God at the time was not really very advanced and was little more than a big guy with a beard on the throne of heaven.  For the next two and a half years I avoided church like the plague and often went out of my way to spite The Big Guy Upstairs. 

            Then, at the age of 16, I went to bed one night certain and set on my future as an archaeologist and God came to me.  When I awoke I knew beyond all doubt I had to cast aside my dreams of being the next Indiana Jones (or rather Time Team Central America) and become a Minister serving a God I was far from well pleased with and knew little about.  Naturally, I had to start going back to church!  I started going back to the local Anglican Church, St. Albans, and became a server there whilst bombarding the minister and her husband with theological questions.  I also began reading on the history of the church - which led me to an interest in Eastern Orthodoxy.

             At the age of 18 I went to Oxford University.  I had chosen  to do my undergraduate degree in theology at Wycliffe Hall (a conservative evangelical Anglican training college) for the sole and only reason that it was the only Church of England college that undergrads could go to.  My church experience so far had been a little while in an evangelical free-church and most of my time in a rural Anglican broad church with an evangelical leaning minister but without, memory serving, much of that coming through in the services themselves.        

            At Oxford the first church I began attending was St. Aldates - a charismatic evangelical Anglican church.  To be honest I enjoyed it but found it very difficult.  Instead I moved away from evangelicalism and began attending both the Russian and the Greek Orthodox Churches, reading vast amounts of Eastern Orthodox literature, and taking retreats at the Orthodox Monastery of St. John the Baptist in Essex.  I loved the beauty of the liturgy, the perceived link to the ancient church, the rich theology.  But the salve of the gospel did not reach my heart, I continued in my soul down a path of darkness. I did not bear spiritual fruit but rather for all my attempted asceticism, my rituals, and longing for a deeper experience of Christ in prayer, I became more and more distant from God.

"I loved the beauty of the Eastern Orthodox liturgy, the perceived link to the ancient church, the rich theology."

            In the mean time my ordination plans were progressing for ordination in the Church of England - this being the church I chose for little more reason than I was raised in it and was English.  Because of this, and growing discontent with the popular presentation of Orthodoxy not being the reality I was experiencing, I had to start attending Anglican churches more.  I began to attend Pusey House on a weekly and often daily basis - Pusey House being about as Anglo-Catholic as one can get.  I also attended St. Giles which was high church leaning broad church, and The Queen's College chapel.    I kept on attending St. Aldates on and off and occasionally went to a Korean free-church.  I did not attend Wycliffe Chapel.  I made many friends at Pusey House, went to the monastery of Bec in Northern France with them, I went more than once to their Easter Triduum away at Ascot Priory, I served weekly at morning Mass, and I occasionally acolyted on Sundays.  I was part of a beautiful expression of Anglo-Catholicism and a joyful community. 

"I was part of a beautiful expression of Anglo-Catholicism and a joyful community... but my life changed in March 2011 when I went on mission to Uganda and I was confronted with the pure, unadulterated, glorious grace of the Gospel."

              I finished my Finals exams and was accepted by the Archbishop of York to train for ministry on the condition that I stayed on to do my studies at Wycliffe and also weekly attended a particular church led by a fantastic guy who I have grown to have a huge love and respect for.   At this time in my life I still would not have called myself 'evangelical' in anything except my view of biblical studies.  This all began to change as the weight of truly caring for peoples souls bore more and more on my heart - a heart which was itself so heavy, dark, and filled with condemnation and a feeling of inadequacy.  My life changed in March 2011 when I went on mission to Uganda and I was confronted with the pure, unadulterated, glorious grace of the Gospel.  My chains were gone, I'd been set free.   The preaching of the gospel of grace and the power of the Cross of Christ in our lives became my number one priority - it is the only thing that matters because it is the only thing that truly changes the lives of the people both now and into eternity. 

            It was only now that my views changed.  The lack of gospel in the broad church seemed to undermine the whole endeavour, church for the people I spoke to seemed little more than a holy club of culture to make people grow up to be 'good people'.  In the Anglo-Catholic wing of the church the lack of gospel was replaced by rituals and the worshipping of things other than God whilst so many of the congregation I spoke to knew little to nothing of the faith or the Bible. All of these churches I was attending were shrinking, were dying.

"All of these churches I was attending were shrinking, were dying"

This was in complete contrast to St. Aldates, St. Ebbes, and St. Andrews - all evangelical Anglican churches which were growing both numerically and in discipleship.  My experiencing of God and the power of the gospel in St. Aldates, the vibrancy and rich discipleship, the biblical literacy, the testimonies of lives changed as each and every week more people came to Christ was astounding. 

            At my ordination as Deacon in 2012 I was an evangelical and proud.  I was not an Anglican and proud: the Church of England was to me now little more than the best boat to fish from.  On the day of the ordination I made vows along the lines that I assented to and would accept the Historic Formulaires of the Church of England - The 39 Articles, the BCP, and the Ordinal - as my guide and as the true interpretation of the Scriptures.  For a number of nights after my ordination I slept little - I had made powerful vows about which I knew little and believed little.  I consider myself to be honest and to have integrity but I felt that I had done myself a disservice.  I decided and resolved myself to the only honest course of action I personally could mentally assent to: I would spend the next year studying the Historic Formularies, the history of the English Reformation and the Anglican Church.  If at the end of that year I felt that I could not with good conscience take the Historic Formularies as my confession of faith then I would not go through with being ordained Priest in the Church of England.  Quite simply my conscience and integrity would not allow me to lie and take such an oath falsely - again.

"I was an evangelical and proud.  I was not an Anglican and proud"

            Over the course of that year my life changed even more.  I discovered more and more not only the gospel of grace but also the doctrines of grace.  I came face to face with the Reformers and their passions, their beliefs, their convictions - and I became convinced that they were right, that they were led by the Holy Spirit in a miraculous way.  They were not perfect, they did not get it all right, they made mistakes, but they were right on so much and definitely on the right 'track'.  The Classical Anglicanism they spawned and led, the Anglicanism embodied in the Articles and other Historic Formulaires, the Anglicanism enforced by Reformation canon law, the Anglicanism expounded in the Homilies, was the best presentation of the gospel, of the dignity of the church, of the biblical ministry of the priest, and of the importance of right doctrine combined with holy living that is available today.  I found a new home and dug my roots down deep in the writings of Cranmer, in the Homilies, in the early Anglican divines, in their true spiritual successors - Parker, Grindal, Trapp, Whitfield, Toplady, and Ryle (that is all to say I dug my roots down deep in the right interpretation of the Holy Bible).  My heart, my soul, my mind has been so enriched by their godly wisdom and guidance that it is hard to describe.  The very real dangers of what they, at times with their very lives, opposed has become all the more apparent to me whilst the glories of what they promoted have become all the more precious to me.  The desperate need in the Church of England and the wider Anglican Church for a new generation of Thomas Cranmers, of George Whitfields, and John Charles Ryles rests heavy on my heart and I intended to live my life in such as way as to be and achieve even only a thousandth of the great things those giants of the truth did.

            When I took my vows for the second time in 2013 as I was ordained a priest in the Church of England I did not consider myself 'Anglican' because I was English and baptised in an Anglican Church, I did not consider myself 'Anglican' because it was the best boat to fish from, I considered myself Anglican because I actually believed in the inheritance of faith laid out in the 39 Articles, in the BCP, and in the Ordinal.  I was and am a Confessional Anglican.  After taking those vows for the second time I slept like a log.

"I consider myself Anglican because I actually believed in the inheritance of faith laid out in the 39 Articles, in the BCP, and in the Ordinal."


  1. It was wonderful reading about your journey of faith. Although I am a Reformed Baptist I have great respect for Confessional Anglicanism and what Anglicans did in church history!


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