Thursday, 9 April 2015

Charismatics, the low-church, and true Anglicanism.

           "Anglicanism was never made to be a dead religion of ancient tomes and rites but a living and vibrant, gospel focussed, Christ glorifying, relevant and understandable, expression of God's glorious body on earth—the church."

    I am of the opinion that there are two contrasting dangers facing many Anglican Churches today and it is of the utmost importance that we walk the knife-edge between them with honesty and integrity yet also humbly recognise that we are not impervious to error and if someone does things differently that that does not necessarily negate their Anglicanism.  These dangers are to remain in the past to the detriment of the spread of the Kingdom, and on the other hand to change so much that we lose what it means to be Anglican in the first place.  Particularly in Australia and also in the UK and parts of America the most flourishing Anglican churches are the low-church evangelical ones — often but not always charismatic.  Holy Trinity Brompton, St. Aldates, New Wine, Sydney Diocese, St. Ebbes, Reform.  Nearly all of these churches and 'scenes' in which such growth in both numbers and depth of discipleship are seen do not use the Book of Common Prayer or robes, probably not even hymn books or organs.  At first it may even be difficult to tell that the church is Anglican and not just an independent evangelical church. 

            Is this a travesty? Is this the death of Anglicanism?  Yes... and no.  It pains me that in many churches most people in the congregation will never have heard of let alone read the 39 Articles, and the ministers are often little more educated than their congregations.  That is a recipe for disaster.  But is their lack of formal liturgy and the theology of the continuation of spiritual gifts a rejection of their Anglican foundations?  I don't believe that is necessarily true.   Let us investigate why I might claim this — and in case you are wondering yes I am 'biased' in some sense as much of my growth as a Christian and my rooting in the Gospel happened at St. Aldates in Oxford.



St. Aldates - Oxford



At first it may even be difficult to tell that the church is Anglican and not just an independent evangelical church. 


            Let us first consider if holding a continuationist theology (the supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit are available today) or even a charismatic theology (these gifts should be actively sought) are fundamentally un-Anglican.  It is well known that the theology of the Church of England as defined in canon law is that of Scripture. The three creeds and the writings of the Church Fathers are only authoritative in any way if and only if they agree with Scripture.  So what does the correct interpretation of Scripture look like according to Anglicanism?  The 39 Articles, the Book of Common Prayer, the Ordinal, and by extension of Article 35 the Books of Homilies.   What do these 'historic formularies' tell us about the continuation of the gifts of the Spirit?  Nothing.  There is nothing about it in the Articles or the BCP or the Ordinal — though the Ordinal certainly speaks of gifting for ministry coming from the Spirit and the giving of the seven gifts of the Spirit in Isaiah 11.1-2 is explicitly prayed for.

"Ultimately, the doctrine of Anglicanism is that of Scripture — and on the gifts of the Spirit there is a divided opinion in which our Reformers officially took no stance."

            The most extensive and the only authoritative treatment of the Holy Spirit and His ministry beyond the most basic creedal affirmations is found in the Homily for Whitsunday (Pentecost) which is in two parts.  Much of this Homily, especially the second part, is dealing with the Papal claims to infallibility and authority.  Elsewhere it clearly takes a strongly reformed and in popular parlance 'Calvinist' view of regeneration and becoming a Christian—this is an unnatural act of the Holy Spirit actively changing a person both to be born again and sanctified:

 "The Father to create, the Son to redeem, the Holy Ghost to sanctify and regenerate.... For it is the Holy Ghost, and no other thing, that doth quicken the minds of men, stirring up good and godly motions in their hearts, which are agreeable to the will and commandment of God, such as otherwise of their own crooked and perverse nature they should never have. That which is born of the flesh saith Christ, is flesh and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.  As who should say, Man of his own nature is fleshly and carnal, corrupt and naught, sinful and disobedient to God, without any spark of goodness in him, without any virtuous or godly motions, only given to evil thoughts and wicked deeds : as for the works of the Spirit, the fruits of faith, charitable and godly motions, if he have any at all in him, they proceed only of the Holy Ghost, who is the only worker of our sanctification and maketh us new men in Christ Jesus... Such is the power of the Holy Ghost to regenerate men, and as it were to bring them forth anew, so that they shall be nothing like the men that they were before.   Neither doth He think it sufficient inwardly to work the spiritual and new both of man, unless He do also dwell and abide in him."     

Those words are full of grace, joy, and hope in the believers ear.  They certainly teach that the Holy Spirit works miracles today in the hearts of unbelievers and believers, but it hardly addresses the issue of charismatic gifts.  Yet the Homily, perhaps surprisingly, does go on to address the gifts as labelled in 1 Corinthians. 


"The Holy Ghost doth always declare Himself by His fruitful and gracious gifts, namely, by the word of wisdom, by the word of knowledge, which is understanding the Scriptures, by faith, in doing miracles, by healing them that are diseased, by prophecy, which is the declaration of God's mysteries, by discerning of spirits, diversity of tongues, interpretation of tongues, and so forth.   All which gifts, as they proceed from one Spirit and are severally given to man according to the measurable distribution of the Holy Ghost, even so do they bring men, and not without good cause, into a wonderful admiration of God's divine power."  (bold print is my emphasis)

There is nothing in the Homily about such gifts as tongues, miracles, healing the diseased, interpretation of tongues, a divinely given understanding of Scripture and a divinely gifted declaring of the mysteries of God, having ceased at any point.  In fact, the Homily goes further in that its main attack on the Papacy is that it claims these gifts are the domain of the Pope when actually the Holy Spirit is given not only the Apostles but to the "universal Church of Christ, dispersed through the whole world."

"[The Homily on Pentecost] takes a strongly reformed and in popular parlance 'Calvinist' view of regeneration and becoming a Christian"

Due to the lack of direct refutation of the continuation of the gifts, and indeed the fairly open reading of the Homily for Pentecost it is not possible to say either way that Anglicanism in its confessional documents is cessationalist or continuationist.  Ultimately, the doctrine of Anglicanism is that of Scripture — and on that there is a divided opinion in which our Reformers officially took no stance.  This means that whatever side of the 'charismatic' debate you stand the charge that one cannot be Anglican and a sensible. biblical, charismatic, is nonsense. 


"I love the Book of Common Prayer.  I love its majesty, its rich and deep teaching."


But what about the fact that many of these flourishing churches don't use liturgy beyond what canon law minimally requires?  That they don't wear robes, or they use guitars and drums and stage lights in their services?  Article 34 reads

"IT is not necessary that Traditions and Ceremonies be in all places one, and utterly like; for at all times they have been divers, and may be changed according to the diversities of countries, times, and men's manners, so that nothing be ordained against God's Word. Whosoever through his private judgement, willingly and purposely, doth openly break the traditions and ceremonies of the Church, which be not repugnant to the Word of God, and be ordained and approved by common authority, ought to be rebuked openly, (that others may fear to do the like,) as he that offendeth against the common order of the Church, and hurteth the authority of the Magistrate, and woundeth the consciences of the weak brethren.
Every particular or national Church hath authority to ordain, change, and abolish, ceremonies or rites of the Church ordained only by man's authority, so that all things be done to edifying."

Whilst Article 20 stands as

"THE Church hath power to decree Rites or Ceremonies, and authority in Controversies of Faith: And yet it is not lawful for the Church to ordain any thing that is contrary to God's Word written, neither may it so expound one place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to another. Wherefore, although the Church be a witness and a keeper of holy Writ, yet, as it ought not to decree any thing against the same, so besides the same ought it not to enforce any thing to be believed for necessity of Salvation."

I love the Book of Common Prayer.  I love its majesty, its rich and deep teaching.  I love that it conveys better than any other liturgy the glorious truths of the gospel of grace and justification by faith alone.  But a foundational tenet of Anglicanism right there in our Confession of Faith is that each particular and national church has the right to ordain, change, or abolish ceremonies and liturgies and ways of 'doing church' so long as all things are done for the building up and edifying of God's people and nothing done is contrary to Scripture either specifically or in general. 

Our own Church even before 1662 went through many revisions and changes in liturgy and life.  Had Cranmer (and Edward) lived longer there is no serious scholar who doubts that he would not have continued the Reformation and changed things further—and we can say with utmost certainty the direction of such changes would have been towards a fuller expression of Reformed Christianity.  Cranmer himself said that the reason he kept robes and many aspects of our liturgy was because he wanted to gradually reform the church so as to bring as many people along with the reformation as possible—his was a plan on a grand scale and on a longer timeline than on the continent.  The so called 'puritans' pushing for further reform during the reign of Elizabeth and James were not the 'anti-Anglicans' but generally speaking they were those who were genuinely trying to bring about the original vision of Anglicanism, however imperfectly that may have been construed.  Anglicanism was never made to be a dead religion of ancient tomes and rites but a living and vibrant, gospel focussed, Christ glorifying, relevant and understandable, expression of God's glorious body on earth—the church.

But, and there is an important, but here.  Such 'ever reforming' cannot be taken up by individuals acting outside of the wider authority of the church.  This was where many, but not all, of the Puritans began to depart from the Anglican confession of faith. 

The context and content of what can be changed is also of the utmost importance — rites and ceremonies can be changed, abolished, ordained, whatever, but doctrine cannot.  The 'window dressing' may change radically under the teaching of these articles, but the doctrine cannot. 

This means, practically speaking for 21st Century Anglicans, that services can have worship bands rather than organs, they can use very little liturgy, ministers can wear jeans and t-shirt if they wish, so long as what they teach not only in their sermons but in their living and the whole tenor of the service and worship, is in accordance with the faith and doctrinal teaching laid down in the 39 Articles, Book of Common Prayer, and The Ordinal — and so long as it is legal in their national or particular church. 


"...every Anglican minister should use the BCP or a very close modern language version of it every single day — they should imbue themselves with its wondrous teaching and expression of the faith of Scripture."


Personally I think the use of the BCP today can be missional in some contexts.  I think that every Anglican minister should use it or a very close modern language version of it every single day — they should imbue themselves with its wondrous teaching and expression of the faith of Scripture.  But it is not missional everywhere.  I wish many of these evangelical churches would make greater use of the Articles and Prayer Book in their sermons and teaching, that they would make every effort to clearly say "we are Anglican, this is our confession, this is our faith, this is best."  But even if they don't, even if they look like an independent evangelical free church on the surface, I will not judge them 'Anglican' or 'not Anglican' until I hear their teaching and see if it is in accordance with our Articles and Formularies. 


I will close with this: we should encourage these churches within our denominations, gently pushing them to claim more publically their Anglican heritage, even whilst we praise Jesus for His blessing and growing them.  For our own part, this will mean knowing well the teaching of our Formularies, killing our pride in our personally favoured rites and ceremonies, and extending generous grace to those who differ.  We must gather together to ensure the Anglican Church remains Protestant and Reformed in both image, belief, and practice.  We must be aware of how what we do can impact other people and their perception of us both for good or ill. Above all else, we must ensure that all we say and do brings glory to our Lord Jesus Christ for that is the chief reason for our existence as a church and as individuals purchased by the blood of the Lamb.


"We must gather together to ensure the Anglican Church remains Protestant and Reformed in both image, belief, and practice."

No comments:

Post a comment

Popular Posts