Following a recent catalyst event I have finally put into words something which has been on my mind for a long time. What I say is my personal opinion, and whilst I may disagree with others I don't think this disagreement invalidates their ministry or makes them ungodly. I fully respect the rights of other Church of England ministers to wear and do as they please under current canon law—though obviously I wish they would not and think it would be better and hold more confessional integrity if they didn't.
Whenever I raise the issue of albs and stoles and certain rituals being alien to classical Anglicanism I have often heard the rebuke "we are moving past the battles of the 19th century" or "there is no point living the ritual battles of the Church Association today" etc. All I can say, to put it more politely than I normally would, is that to my mind such a rejoinder is utter rot. These are not "19th century battles" these are the same battles which have played out in the 20th, the 19th, the 17th, and the 16th century—these are the same battles that were fought at the Reformation, at the founding of the Church of England. These battles are part and parcel of our Protestant and Reformed identity, they cannot be separated from our Confession of Faith and historical practice. They were rejected at the Reformation for very good reason, they continued to be rejected afterwards for very good reason, they were again vocally opposed in the 19th century with very good reason. Sadly, after World War One the battle was all but 'lost.' That does not, however, mean it is worth giving up and 'going with the flow' it simply means fighting the next battle, which is our right to maintain our distinct identity as confessional reformed protestant Anglicans who are proud (and rightly so) to be Anglican.
This is what much of it boils down to in the end. Our very foundation, our Confession of Faith—The 39 Articles—and our other historic formularies (plus the Homilies) not only affirm many positive things about who we are as Anglicans but also by their very nature are documents which set up Anglican identity as being, in part, a denial and rejection of something else—namely Roman ritualism. A rejection of these things is as much a part of our Anglican identity as the affirming of salvation by faith alone. If one truly believes in the Historic Formularies of the Church of England and holds, as our canon law states, that they were written under the leading of the Holy Spirit; if one uses them as their guide in ministry and life, then one cannot but believe that the Roman Catholic Church is a church which officially teaches dangerous heresy. The Roman Catholic Church is a church which in its official teaching rejects the gospel of grace, denies the fullness of the atoning sacrifice of Christ, and actively promotes as necessary to salvation the practice of idolatry.
To show that this has ever been the understanding of true classical Anglicans I will share just a few quotations from well known Anglicans—some of them from the traditional High Church camp—which show our rejection of Roman error but rightly also point out the fact that Roman Catholics may still be saved by Christ because they are still Christians.
"There is peril, great peril, of damnable both schism and heresy and other sins by living and dying in the Roman Faith, tainted with so many superstitions, as at this day it is, and their tyranny to boot. I do indeed for my part, leaving other men free to their own judgement, acknowledge a possibility of salvation in the Roman Church; but so as that which I grant to Romanists is not as they are Romanists but as they are Christians... to such I dare not deny a possibility of salvation for that which is Christ's in them, though they hazard themselves extremely by keeping so close to that which is superstition and in the case of images comes too near idolatry" Archbishop Laud - Conference with Fisher p.35
"I verily believe they are in great danger of their salvation who live in her [Rome's] communion; that is, who own her erroneous doctrine and join in her corrupt worship." Bishop Bull - Corruptions of the Church of Rome
"Salvation consists not in a formality of profession, but in a soundness of belief. A true body may be full of mortal disease; so is the Roman Church of this day, whom we have long pitied and laboured to cure in vain. If she will not be healed by us, let us not be infected by her; let us be no less jealous of her contagion than she is of our remedies. Hold fast that precious truth which hath been long taught you by faithful pastors, confirmed by clear evidences from Scripture, evinced by sound reasons, sealed up by the blood of our blessed martyrs!" Bishop Hall - The Old Religion
That Anglicans should consider the Roman Church sick and with plague is clear. That we should thus be most wary of being infected ourselves should likewise be readily understood. One need only look at the short amount of time it took to go from Pusey and Newman to the Shrine and cult of Our Lady of Walsingham ('Falsingham' as Wycliffe rightly pointed out) where it is as if the Reformation never took place. The acceptance of ritualism in minor things will always, always, lead to the slow but inescapable surrender of greater things. They are the 'thin wedge' when once in the door can be most difficult to remove. Indeed I would argue that had it not been the for Ritualist Movement so weakening the Church of England by forcing through with popular demand the rejection of her confessional documents as of central importance (despite the repeated legal decisions upholding the reformed and traditional practice as the only legal one) then we would not be so under the sway of liberalism today with no real way to discipline and correct it. When any organisation rejects its founding principles it ceases to be what it was. When the Church of England rejected its founding protestant principles it ceased to be exactly what it was and the massive folly we see all around us today, especially in The Episcopal Church USA and Canada, became all but inevitable. I personally fear the same fate for those church portraying themselves as valid Anglican alternative such as the REC (which is now part f ACNA) and the FCE given how they seem to have forgotten the very reason for their founding.
One of the biggest false teachings of the Roman Church is her opinion that Priests are ordained with the power to sacrifice Christ upon the altar and transubstantiate bread and wine, to absolve the sins of others, and through baptism save children for all eternity. This view of the Priesthood was utterly rejected by our Reformers for good, biblical, and pastoral reasons. It is most idolatrous to raise a mere man into the place of God, to undermine the work of Christ, and to profess that men have the power to forgive sin or cause miracles by following rituals. Roman Priests are 'mass-priests' whose central role is the sacrifice of the mass and the pseudo-sacraments of last rites and confession etc. Our Ordinal, the robes our reformers ordered us to wear, and the change of church interiors, emphasise above all else the that the role of the minister is a teacher, an educator, a preacher. (I will expand on this in a later blog post).
All of this begs the question, if we believe the Church of Rome to be diseased, and we reject her understanding of ordination and ministry, why oh why would we ever, ever, want to look like she does? Why would we ever want to give our flocks reason for the confusion that our ministries are the same by wearing and doing the same things? What possible benefit can there be to dressing up like Roman Catholics? Are we so ashamed of our Reformed heritage and our uniquely protestant vision of ministry that we want to hide it away and instead play Roman and pretend to be followers of the Pope? Where is our rightful pride in being Anglican? Where is our pride in not being Roman, in not being Presbyterian, but being part of a glorious and pure presentation of the gospel faith? I love these words of Bishop Andrewes (again another traditional high churchman) comparing the Church of England to Rome:
"Look at our religion in Britain—primitive, pure, purified, such as Zion would acknowledge. What! must we take the field to teach that nowhere else does there exist a religion more in accord with the true Zion, that is, with the institutions of the Gospel and the Apostles, than ours? Look at our Confession contained in the XXXIX Articles; look at our Catechism: it is short, but in spite of its shortness there is nothing wanting in it. Look at the Apology of our Church—truly a Jewel. Whoso will, may find our doctrines there... Walk about Zion and go round about her. We have for our rule of religion one Canon given us by God in writing, the two Testaments, the three Creeds, the first four Councils, five Centuries, three before and two after Constantine, and the Fathers who lived in them. For those who are not satisfied with the old Catholic Faith without the new patches of Rome, those who are not contended unless by draining to the dregs they reach the abuses and errors, not to say the fables and figments, which afterwards filled the Church, we leave them to the enjoyment of their choice. Let them betroth themselves to God with a faith that is not written. Zion, certainly was not so betrothed (Hos 2.20).... There is nothing here [in the rituals and superstitions of Rome] which has the savour of Zion–nothing at all, or of that primitive and true faith which was once delivered to the saints." Bishop Andrewes - Sermon on Frederick the Count Palatine's leaving England in 1613.
Why do we in primitive, pure, and purified Zion seek to live and act like unfaithful Samaria? What have we possibly got to be ashamed of, to think so desperately lacking that we need the 'new patches' of Rome? As Andrewes also said
"Wherever we have changed anything it has been done because in your [Roman] ritual you had gone away from the pure and perfect worship of God, and because it was 'not so from the beginning' Bishop Andrewes - Totira Torti p.375
Do we honestly, hands down, think we know so much better than the Reformers on these matters of ritual which have "gone away from the pure and perfect worship of God"? Are we truly wiser and better and purer (and our congregations less gullible and prone to error) than Cranmer, Ridley, and Latimer? Than Grindal, Parker, and Whitgift? Than Andrewes, Laud, and Ussher? Than Whitfield, Wesley, and Ryle? I know I dare not say I am.
Are the 'battles of the 19th century' worth fighting? It depends on if you are proud to be a confessional, reformed, protestant, Anglican. It depends on if you think our distinctives are important and our rejection of the terrible errors of Rome intrinsic to who we are (indeed confessionally enshrined as part of our Articles). It depends on if you think our ways deficient and in need of Roman 'makeup' to be relevant today.
Leaving aside theology (which is very important), why would we want to wear albs and stoles and chasubles when these are the very raiment of a wrongheaded priesthood which is antithetical to our Anglican understanding and whose church teaches such serious error? Why would we want to make our English Tables look like Roman Altars by covering them with frontals and placing on them crosses and candles which had no place in the primitive church? Why would we want to treat what outside of services is truly nothing more than a table like any other as if it were some sacred conduit of God's presence one must not touch or place any secular thing upon? There is a reason why our Reformers didn't want the table left in the body of the church but rather put to one side outside of services—so everyone was clear it was just a table much like after the service the bread and wine are just bread and wine.
Why would we want to hand to our priests and presbyters at ordination a chalice and paten when our Reformers so blatantly reformed the liturgy to remove that very act so that it was clear to all the world that being a Priest is about first of all preaching and teaching and not the sacrament of The Lord's Supper (and if you give a chalice and paten why not a font as well, is baptism to be depreciated as of less importance than The Supper)?
Why would we want to clutter up our Lord's Table with what could rightly be called 'Eucharistic toys' such as different coloured cloths and cushions, pyxs and ciboriums, corporals and palls? Why would we want to use wafers when they destroy the unity of the people in the breaking of one bread and further remove us from the meal aspect of The Supper? Why would we want to mix water with the wine when it serves no purpose but to add one more ritual, one more pointless burden, and that on a most shaky biblical ground? Why would we want our ministers to ceremonially wash their hands in front of the people as if they were about to do so special a thing that their confession of their sins moments before was not sufficient and when the pouring of water over hands holds absolutely no antibacterial benefit? What on earth is the point of all these rituals? What is wrong with what our Reformers gave us?
Having spent plenty of time serving and acolyting in Anglo-Catholic Churches I can honestly say I see nothing appealing or useful in any of these rituals. They have no place in classical Anglicanism. I can see nothing at all that would make a confessional Anglican think they ever needed to add such things to our pure and simple, reverent and sombre, services. If we are ever to bring people into the Anglican Church over and against other churches, be they Roman or non-conformists, we must recover a godly sense of pride in our unique identity, in what we uniquely offer. I would appeal to all who call themselves Anglican to grasp hold with both hands our Confession of Faith, our historical deposit of wisdom, our unique identity, proudly and boldly living as Anglicans and not a church seemingly desperate to look and walk and talk like the sick and diseased church named Rome.
As Bishop Andrewes said "For those who are not satisfied with the old Catholic Faith without the new patches of Rome, those who are not contended unless by draining to the dregs they reach the abuses and errors, not to say the fables and figments, which afterwards filled the Church, we leave them to the enjoyment of their choice. Let them betroth themselves to God with a faith that is not written." I will happily leave those who choose such things to the enjoyment of their choices. I will, however, do two things: firstly I will always proclaim that the path our Reformers took us down—marked with their own blood—is on countless levels far greater, and secondly that those who want to embrace Roman ritual and dress who remain in the Church of England must allow those of us for whom that is abhorrent to not muddy our consciences in so joining them for that would only poison our friendships and working relationships. I have many good friends who have bought in to (and been brought up in) ritualism, I do not question their love for God or relationship with Him, but I am grateful they love and honour me enough back to not demand I abandon my confessional principles.