Thursday, 21 August 2014

The Five Points of Classical Anglicanism

What is Anglicanism?  To many you may as well ask “what is nice” or “what is bad” - it is a completely subjective question to which you could answer pretty much anything you wanted.  When a person tells you that they are Anglican you have no idea what they mean, until they add another load of jargon onto ‘Anglican’ to clarify.  You have ‘Anglo-Catholic’ ‘Liberal-Catholic’ ‘Liberal’ ‘Catholic-Evangelical’ ‘Evangelical’ ‘Conservative Evangelical’ ‘Charismatic-Evangelical’ ‘Charismatic’ ‘Reformed’ ‘High-Church’ ‘Low-Church’ ‘Broad-Church’ ‘Rural-Church’ and on and on and on and on.    To an extent this has always been the case - to an extent.  

There has always been a ‘High Church’ camp and a ‘Low Church’ camp within the Anglican Church and this is in part due to the unique nature of the English Reformation - the ‘top down’ approach coming down from the monarchs leanings which ranged from Reformed Protestantism to closet Papists (and indeed under Bloody Mary outright Roman Catholicism).  This does not, however, change the nature of Classical Anglicanism.

"When a person tells you that they are Anglican you have no idea what they mean"

But what is ‘Classical Anglicanism’ - it would be my contention that true ‘Classical Anglicanism’ is the Anglicanism that is evidenced in the Historic Formularies and the broad consensus of the Church till the reign of Charles I and the ascension of Archbishop Laud.  This needs some clarification because one of the Historic Formularies in fact comes from long after Laud - the 1662 BCP affirmed under Charles II.   The doctrine of the 1662 BCP is, in reality, the same as the previous BCP’s - the language allows a little more leeway to the ‘High Church’ side but not enough to overturn the basic Classical Anglican nature of the text.
When Laud came to power in 1633 he began a fundamental change in the Church of England, turning it violently - to the best of his abilities - to an Arminian and more Lutheran, indeed secretly Roman Catholic, direction (Laud banned all books that called the Pope the 'antichrist' and was involved, along with prominent Arminian Richard Montagu, in discussions of possible reconciliation with Rome - something previous Anglicans would never have dreamed of but would rather consider the stuff of nightmares).  Much of the Church of England after Laud would not have been recognisable to the reformers and martyrs whose blood soaked the foundation stones of Classical Anglicanism.  But, try as he might, Laud could not extinguish the flame of the candle ignited by Latimer and Ridley as they burned at the stake in Oxford with Latimer saying those moving words: Be of good comfort, Master Ridley, and play the man! We shall this day light such a candle, by God's grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out.”  It is the duty of every true Anglican to ensure, in matters both great and small, that the candle never goes out, that the blood of Cranmer and his friends was not spilt in vain.  

The Anglicanism of the pre-Laudian church, Classical Anglicanism, can be seen to have five central points.  In these points, each flowing out of the first, is found true Anglicanism.

"Much of the Church of England after Laud would not have been recognisable to the reformers and martyrs whose blood soaked the foundation stones of Classical Anglicanism"

Classical Anglicanism is Confessional

Canon A5 of the Church of England states: The doctrine of the Church of England is grounded in the Holy Scriptures, and in such teachings of the ancient Fathers and Councils of the Church as are agreeable to the said Scriptures.  In particular such doctrine is to be found in the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, The Book of Common Prayer, and the Ordinal.”
The doctrine of the Church of England is the doctrine of Scripture rightly interpreted.  This interpretation, the authoritative interpretation, is found in the Historic Formularies: The 39 Articles, The Book of Common Prayer, and the Ordinal.  Canon A2 tells us clearly that the doctrine of the 39 Articles is “agreeable to the Word of God” and all members of the Church of England may assent to their teaching with a good conscience.  Canon A3 likewise affirms that the doctrine of the 1662 BCP is “agreeable to the Word of God” and it can be used in “good conscience”.  Canon A4 completes the set by declaring the Ordinal is “not repugnant to the Word of God”.   All of this makes pretty clear that the official doctrine of the Church of England is to be found in its formularies.  Increasingly Canon C7 states that no-one should be allowed into the ministry without having been found to have sufficient knowledge not only of the Scriptures but “of the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Church of England as set forth in the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, The Book of Common Prayer, and the Ordinal”    
Canon C15 relates the oath, the declaration of assent, made by people to enter into ministry in the Church of England.  The preface that explains the declaration states that the Church of England professes the true faith of Christianity which must be proclaimed to every generation, the faith uniquely revealed in Holy Scripture and set forth in the catholic creeds.  But more is said about this faith that the church professes; “Led by the Holy Spirit, [the CofE] has borne witness to Christian truth in its historic formularies, the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, The Book of Common Prayer and the Ordering of Bishops, Priests and Deacons.”  It is this ‘Christian truth’, witnessed to by the leading of the Holy Spirit, that all ministers are told to “affirm your loyalty to… as your inspiration and guidance under God...”  In response to this preface every minister declares that they affirm and believe in the faith of the Anglican Church - grounded in Scripture, set forth in the creeds, and borne witness to in the Historic Formularies.

"To disagree with The 39 Articles is to disagree with Anglicanism.  "

            But more needs to be said in way of clarification.  There is a reason why the 39 Articles always precede the BCP and Ordinal: strictly speaking they are the ‘confession’ of the Anglican Church.  The Lutherans have their Book of Concord and Augsburg Confession, the Presbyterians their Westminster Confession of Faith, the Baptists their London Baptist Confession, the Dutch Calvinists their Canons of Dort and Heidelberg Catechism, and the Anglicans have the 39 Articles.  The BCP and Ordinal are not confessional doctrinal documents but rather they (along with the Book of Homilies which is sanctioned as containing “godly and wholesome doctrine” in Article 35 and is pointed to in Article 11 as further elucidating the doctrine of the 39 Articles) are texts which show forth the doctrine of The 39 and have in this sense derivative authority.  I deeply love the Prayer Book, there is no greater liturgy ever written, but it is not in itself confessional.  As Bishop J.C. Ryle said:

“[the BCP] is a manual of public devotion: it is not a confession of faith.  Let us love it, honour it, prize it, reverence it, admire it, use it.  But let us not exalt it to the place which the Thirty-nine Articles alone can fill, and which common sense, statute law, and the express opinions of eminent divines unanimously agree in assigning to them.  The Articles, far more than the Prayer Book, are the Church’s standard of sound doctrine, and the real test of true Churchmanship.” [J.C. Ryle Church Association tract 68]

            That The 39 are the true confession is seen clearly in how it is they that interpret the BCP and not the other way around.  The Gorham Trial affirmed in law that The 39 give the correct reading of the doctrine of the BCP and not vice-versa.  This limits the ‘High Church’ readings of some BCP passages by keeping their official doctrinal meaning firmly within the boundaries of the theology of The 39.  

            The 39 Articles according to their subtitle were written and made legally binding for the “avoiding of diversities of opinion and for the establishing of consent touching true religion” that is to say, they are a confession of faith which on matters of dispute rule which side is Anglican and in so doing establish the contents of ‘true religion’ - that is Anglicanism.  The declaration of Charles II which is prefaced to the Articles shows their confessional nature in crystal clear language in that it requires all ‘loving subjects’ of the King to “continue in the uniform Profession thereof, and prohibiting the least difference from the said Articles”.  You don’t get more confessional than that.  

            Classical Anglicanism is Confessional Anglicanism - it affirms and declares proudly the faith as set forth in the 39 Articles and witnessed to in the correct reading of the BCP and Ordinal.  To disagree with The 39 is to disagree with Anglicanism.  You truly can measure how ‘Anglican’ a person is by how faithful they are to the inheritance of faith laid out in the Historic Formularies.    As Thomas Rogers, who within forty years of The 39 being written wrote the first commentary upon them said:

“The purpose of our Church is best known by the doctrine which she does profess: the doctrine of the Thirty-nine Articles establish by Act of Parliament; the Articles by the words whereby they are expressed: and other doctrine than in the said Articles is contained, our Church neither hath nor holdeth, and other sense they cannot yield than their words do impart.”  

Classical Anglicanism is Universal/Catholic

Having established that Classical Anglicanism is confessional and its beliefs, doctrines, and practices can be found in the Historic Formularies we can move on to the defining features of the confessional faith of Classical Anglicanism.  Firstly, we find that Classical Anglicanism is ‘Universal.’  Commonly this is phrased as the Church being ‘catholic’ as in “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.”  Often the phrase “reformed and catholic” or “catholic and reformed” is heard.  Indeed, Cranmer, Calvin, Luther and even the Puritans were happy to declare that they believed the ‘catholic’ faith and that their churches though rejecting Romanism were ‘catholic’.  The word ‘catholic’ strictly speaking means nothing more and nothing less than Universal - the universal church following the universal faith.    

"The catholicity and universality of Classical Anglicanism is found in its profession of the one true faith as witnessed in the Creeds"

The problem is that in the 21st century 99% of the time the word ‘catholic’ is used it does not refer to its technical theological meaning.  Usually if a person says that they are ‘catholic’ they mean that they are ‘Roman Catholic.’  This misunderstanding, and indeed abuse of the word ‘catholic’, has spread into modern Anglicanism.  Thus a person who claims to be an ‘evangelical catholic’ often means in reality that they believe in the Bible and think preaching is important BUT they also dress in Roman Catholic vestments, hold to Roman Catholic views of the sacraments (likely thinking that there are 7 of them!), glories in Roman Catholic ritualism and endorses Roman Catholic spirituality.  Indeed, when one speaks of ‘Anglo-Catholics’ it plainly means in reality not ‘Anglicans who hold the Universal faith’ but ‘Anglicans who are Roman Catholic in just about everything but name.’  When the Reformers called themselves ‘catholic’ it was not because they accepted the trappings and doctrine of Rome but, in part, because they rejected them.  For the Reformers the ‘catholic faith’ is the true, biblical, pure, faith and the ‘catholic church’ is any church which holds unashamedly to this faith and doesn’t taint and compromise the apostolic deposit.  As we will look at in the next section the 39 Articles constant rejection of the errors of Rome rules out the validity of an Anglicanism that harpers after Rome as the ‘Universal Church’ we should be in conformity with.

Rather, the catholicity and universality of Classical Anglicanism is found primarily in its profession of the one true faith as witnessed in the Creeds.  The BCP endorses and requires the use of the Apostles Creed, the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed (plus filioque), and the Athanasian Creed.   That this is how we are to understand the ‘catholicity’ of the church is clear from the Athanasian Creed in the BCP (unhelpfully in a part entitled “At Morning Prayer”!).  The Creed begins:

“Whosoever will be saved : before all things it is necessary that he hold the Catholick Faith.   Which Faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled : without doubt he shall perish everlastingly.  And the Catholick Faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity;....”

and concludes with the words:

“This is the Catholick Faith : which except a man believe faithfully, he cannot be saved.”

Classical Anglicanism is catholic because, above all else, it holds to the catholic faith, the faith of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.

The ‘universal’ aspect of Classical Anglicanism can also be seen in its emphasis and concern to be found in line with the Church Fathers in as far as they are Biblical.  Cranmer was one of the greatest scholars of the Fathers in the West during the 16th century, he was one of the very few people who could claim to personally have copies of all the known Father’s (his personal library was larger than that of Jesus College in Cambridge!) and one of the fewer who could honestly claim to have read them all making notes along the way.  The 39 Articles mention both Jerome and Augustine by name and the prefaces to the BCP reinforce the fact that tradition was not to be jettisoned unless it contradicts true, biblical, religion - as Article 21 makes clear.  Whilst some have attempted to make this aspect of Anglicanism allow patristic or mediaeval practices and theology to overrule the clear teaching of the Articles and have used it as an excuse to interpret the BCP in ways it was never intended to be, this is clearly a historically spurious effort.  The use of the Church Fathers by the early Anglicans extended to confirming what they believed by proof-texting, not to changing their Reformation beliefs to be more in line with the Fathers than the Bible.

This concern to be seen in line with the historical church can be seen in the fact that, unlike its Reformed brethren on the continent, the Church of England kept bishops, priests/presbyters, and deacons and thus some form of ‘apostolic succession’.  Second century Christian Fathers, fighting the heresy of Gnosticism, began to use the word ‘catholic’ to describe the church - the church as ‘universal’ rather than ‘hidden.’  For these Fathers the catholicity of the Church could be seen in four areas - accepting Scripture, sticking to the ‘rule of faith’ or ‘apostolic deposit’ of teaching (Trinity etc.), worship in word and sacrament, and apostolic succession - a direct link to this deposit and teaching leading back to the apostles themselves.  The Church of England maintained all four of these faithfully.  Bishops in the early church were those who defended and promoted the true apostolic deposit, the faith of the Scriptures rightly interpreted - much as Timothy was called to do.   If bishops depart from this apostolic deposit their ‘apostolic succession’ is meaningless and void: true apostolic succession is not about some magical ontological change when someone becomes a bishop but rightly handling Scripture and truth.  

Whilst from the 17th century the Church of England required all ministers who joined the church to be episcopally ordained, this was widely flouted as it was out of step with the early theology of the Anglican church.  As Diarmaid MacCulloch makes clear, the keeping of the three-fold ministry by the Anglican Church bore very little “ideological freight” indeed it is  “difficult to discern in Cranmer any sense of apostolic succession of the ministry or any idea that ministers of God’s word and sacraments differ materially from other servants of the Tudor monarchy” and “The notion of apostolic succession dependent on a line of  bishops was not something that appealed to early Elizabethan bishops, although by the early seventeenth century, the situation was changing….”   

This change, increasingly more apparent towards and into the Caroline stage of Anglicanism makes clear that Roman Catholic ideas of apostolic succession and the ontological change caused by the ‘sacrament’ of ordination are alien to classical Anglicanism and whilst having a long history in the Church of England cannot be seen to constitute part of the Anglican churches identity (or validity!).

"It is difficult to discern in Cranmer any sense of apostolic succession"

Classical Anglicanism is Protestant

            Classical Anglicanism is not only Universal it is also unashamedly Protestant.  Anglicanism is no ‘via media’ between Rome and Protestantism, it is completely Protestant.  This can be seen in how the Historic Formularies hold to what would later be called the ‘five solae’ which later defined reformation teaching.  These are Scripture Alone, Faith Alone, Through Christ Alone, by Grace Alone, to the Glory of God Alone.  Let us take these in turn.

            The doctrine of Sola Scriptura is often misrepresented.  Sola Scriptura is different from Solo Scriptura.  Generally speaking Sola Scriptura teaches that everything we need to know about God, faith, salvation, and right living can be known through reading the Bible correctly.  Solo Scriptura teaches that anything outside the Scriptures cannot be held as truth.  This is patently false and is what leads many free churches to reject the historic creeds.   

Article Six of The 39 teaches that “Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation.” This is a bold proclamation and a rejection of any ‘tradition’ which teaches against Scripture or is held as a dogma but is not found in the Bible.  This idea of things that are necessary to salvation having to be in Scripture is played out across The 39.  Article 8 on the historic Creeds says that they “ought thoroughly to be received and believed: for they may be proved by most certain warrants of Holy Scripture.”  Why do we accept the Creeds?  They agree with Scripture.  That they are not to be accepted simply because of their historicity and wide acceptance by the Patristic Church is clear in Articles 20 and 21 which deal with the authority of the Church and Church Councils.   Article 20 tells us that “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.” and Article 21 affirms this in saying that things ordained and proposed by Church Councils as being necessary to Salvation “have neither strength nor authority, unless it may be declared that they be taken out of holy Scripture”  The condemnation of various erroneous practices are denounced in the Articles by the phrase “repugnant to the Word of God” (Article 22, 24, cf. 34)  whilst Article 28 attacks transubstantiation as being something which “cannot be proved by Holy Writ; but is repugnant to the plain words of Scripture”  Finally, Article 17 reminds us that “we must receive God's promises in such wise, as they be generally set forth to us in Holy Scripture”

"Anglicanism is no ‘via media’ between Rome and Protestantism, it is completely Protestant."

The 39 Articles also proclaim boldly not only justification by faith but importantly justification by faith ALONE.  Article 11 is crystal clear that “We are accounted righteous before God, only for the merit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ by Faith, and not for our own works or deservings. Wherefore, that we are justified by Faith only, is a most wholesome Doctrine, and very full of comfort, as more largely is expressed in the Homily of Justification.” Articles 12-14 make clear that our works have no part in our salvation.

            And in whom must the faith be put?  In Christ alone.  Or as Article 18 puts it “They also are to be had accursed that presume to say, That every man shall be saved by the Law or Sect which he professeth, so that he be diligent to frame his life according to that Law, and the light of Nature. For Holy Scripture doth set out unto us only the Name of Jesus Christ, whereby men must be saved.”

This faith in Christ and our whole salvation is likewise, in Classical Anglicanism, seen as being by the grace of God alone.  Article 10 argues that because we are all born by nature sinners prone to reject God at every stage it is only by His grace and mercy that we would ever come to faith in Him in the first place “The condition of Man after the fall of Adam is such, that he cannot turn and prepare himself, by his own natural strength and good works, to faith; and calling upon God. Wherefore we have no power to do good works pleasant and acceptable to God, without the grace of God by Christ preventing us, that we may have a good will, and working with us, when we have that good will.”  through Grace obey the calling” Article 17 confirms this in saying that the elect only obey the calling of God on their lives “through Grace”

            And what of everything being to the glory of God alone?  Article 14 claims that all our good works no matter how many in number make us nothing worth but are only our bounden duty as unprofitable servants to the Holy God.  The best place to witness this doctrine is of course in the faith of The 39 lived out as seen in the Book of Common Prayer.  Here we see frequently the refrains at the end of prayers such as “To the glory of thy Holy Name” (Confession in Morning and Evening Prayer), “that we may… give thee praise and glory” (Prayer for fair weather), “May use the same to thy glory” (Second prayer for times of dearth and famine), or even in the prayer for the high court parliament “direct and prosper all their consultations to the advancement of thy glory” - the list could easily go on and on.

"The confession of faith of the Church of England is simply and plainly, anti-Roman Catholic."

            Beside the affirming of the Five Solae there is another clear area in which the Historic Formularies, and the 39 Articles in particular, are profoundly Protestant to the complete exclusion of Papism:  The confession of faith of the Church of England is simply and plainly, anti-Roman Catholic.  This truth is unequivocal, even Newman in the end saw that his arguments were hopelessly pointless and a mere railing against the truth.  Time and again the Articles denounce the teachings of Rome.  Let us see how and to what extent.

            Let us start with the bold assertion of Article 19 that “the Church of Rome hath erred, not only in their living and manner of Ceremonies, but also in matters of Faith.”  (the start of the Article extends its condemnation to the Eastern Orthodox Churches too).   Here we see two important things, firstly Rome is wrong and in error concerning their ceremonies and how they call their flock to live out their faith.  Secondly, and more importantly, Rome is quite simple wrong and in error in matters of the faith itself.  That is a strong condemnation; the faith held by the Roman Catholic Church is erroneous.  How these two errors (life/ceremonies and Faith itself) are seen in Rome is spelled out across the other Articles.
            Article 22 states uncompromisingly that “The Romish Doctrine concerning Purgatory, Pardons, Worshipping and Adoration, as well of Images as of Relics, and also Invocation of Saints, is a fond thing, vainly invented, and grounded upon no warranty of Scripture, but rather repugnant to the Word of God.”   Purgatory, padrons, invoking the prayers of saints are all fond and dangerous fantasies.  Likewise the worshipping or adoration of images and Relics is likewise wrong - the use of both ‘worship’ and ‘adoration’ here shows a clear knowledge of the alleged difference between latria (worship due to God alone) and dulia (reverence which can be given to saints and icons etc.) and any such arguments are smashed apart in the “godly and wholesome teaching” (Article 35) of the Homily Against the Perils of Idolatry which is decidedly iconoclastic.  This iconclastic tendency was evident in all stages of Classical Anglicanism with all altars, relics, rood screens, crosses, statues, banners, icons, and religious imagery being utterly destroyed under Henry, Edward, and Elizabeth.  How the teaching of Article 22 was backed up by state law and canon law makes clear that the rejection of such things was total.

Tied in with this iconoclastic belief is the rejection by Classical Anglicanism of anything the Church Councils taught which did not match Scripture - including the clear rejection of the Seventh Ecumenical Council entailed in the above point and spelt out in the Homily Against the Perils of Idolatry.  The idea that the Church either individually or ecumenically can impose as dogma something not found in Scripture is condemned in Articles 20-21 which rather throws out the window the modern Roman Catholic dogmas of Papal Infallibility, the Immaculate Conception of Mary, and the bodily Assumption of Mary.

Article 24 rejects the old (and now recurring) error of Rome (and in the modern world the Orthodox Churches) of having prayers in services in a language “not understanded of the people.”  Arguably this rejection extends to singing hymns in Latin in churches such as the Gloria or Agnus Dei etc.  If you want to sing the Gloria and be in line with Classical Anglicanism the only option is to do it in English (unless you are ministering to a congregation of a different language - with Latin being a dead language it is out of equation anyway)

"Iconclastic beliefs were evident in all stages of Classical Anglicanism"

Article 25 (and the Homily on Common Prayer) rejects the Roman Catholic conception of Sacraments and limits their number to two - namely Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.  Whilst on the topic of Sacraments Article 25 continues on to say “The Sacraments [note the plural here!] were not ordained of Christ to be gazed upon, or to be carried about, but that we should duly use them. And in such only as worthily receive the same, they have a wholesome effect or operation: but they that receive them unworthily, purchase to themselves damnation, as Saint Paul saith.”  Classical Anglicanism rejects elevating the ‘host’ and the practice of Eucharistic Adoration (to Classical Anglicanism the use of a Monstrance is a Monstrosity!).  It also out of hand rejects the Roman Catholic idea of ex opere operato concerning the Sacraments - unless you worthily and with faith receive the Lord’s Supper it does you no good, confers on you no grace, and rather brings condemnation upon you (Article 29).  Likewise Classical Anglicanism generally taught that baptism does not confer automatic faith or grace but rather only does so for the elect for whom it is most certainly an ”effectual sign of grace” (Article 25) which confirms and strengthens nascent faith.

Roman Catholic teaching concerning ‘the Mass’ is likewise condemned with Article 31 saying that the “sacrifices of Masses, in the which it was commonly said, that the Priest did offer Christ for the quick and the dead, to have remission of pain or guilt, were blasphemous fables, and dangerous deceits.” (that the council of Trent went on to plainly call the Mass ‘the sacrifices of Masses’ means this really does mean what it says) and Article 28 plainly condemns transubstantiation: “Transubstantiation (or the change of the substance of Bread and Wine) in the Supper of the Lord, cannot be proved by Holy Writ; but is repugnant to the plain words of Scripture, overthroweth the nature of a Sacrament, and hath given occasion to many superstitions.” whilst going on to likewise damn Eucharist Adoration by saying “The Sacrament of the Lord's Supper was not by Christ's ordinance reserved, carried about, lifted up, or worshipped.” The rejection of reserving the sacrament should be noted - ‘communion by extension’ is not in the Classical Anglican dictionary of liturgical services.

The old Roman Catholic stance of withholding the wine during the Lord’s Supper is rejected in Article 30 whilst the still contemporary Roman Catholic practise of enforcing celibacy on the clergy is rejected Article 31.  For all these reasons, and many besides, Article 37 adamantly states that “the Bishop of Rome (the Pope) hath no jurisdiction in this realm of England.”

As J.C. Ryle said when considering the many condemnation of Rome in the 39 Articles “So long as the Articles stand unrepealed and unaltered, Protestantism is a distinctive principle of the Church of England, and it is the bounden duty of every clergyman to oppose Popery.”

Classical Anglicanism is Reformed/Calvinist

            So, Classical Anglicanism is confessionally Protestant and Universal - but what kind of Protestant is it?   As MacCulloch states, in the same article quoted above, the Church of England even under Elizabeth was largely

“Reformed Protestant in sympathy. If it was Catholic, it was Catholic in the same sense that John Calvin was Catholic, and up to the mid-seventeenth century it thought of  itself as a part (although a slightly peculiar part) of the international Reformed  Protestant family of churches, alongside the Netherlands, Geneva, the Rhineland,  Scotland or Transylvania. It had long left Lutheranism behind.“

            That Classical Anglicanism is ‘Reformed’ is seen in two areas in particular - The Lord’s Supper and what would later be called ‘Calvinism.’

            The 39 Articles not only rejected transubstantiation but they also reject the ‘Real Presence’ in the sense that the Lutheran churches understood it.  Quite simply the Classical Anglican teaching on the Lord’s Supper is that Christ is not ‘in’ ‘under’ ‘around’ ‘on’ ‘behind’ (or any other preposition) the bread and wine either physically or spiritually.  The rejection of the theology of the Real Presence is spelled out in Article 29 the inclusion of which under Elizabeth I finally scuppered any chance of reconciling and allying with the Lutherans; it reads “The Wicked, and such as be void of a lively faith, although they do carnally and visibly press with their teeth (as Saint Augustine saith) the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ; yet in no wise are they partakers of Christ: but rather, to their condemnation, do eat and drink the sign or Sacrament of so great a thing”  basically unless the person receiving it has faith the person does not receive Christ.  Instead Article 28 tells us plainly that “The Body of Christ is given, taken, and eaten, in the Supper, only after an heavenly and spiritual manner. And the mean whereby the Body of Christ is received and eaten in the Supper, is Faith.” Likewise the third exhortation in the BCP clams that those with lively faith and repentance who receive the bread and wine feed on Christ ‘Spiritually’ so those who don’t have that faith are in great danger.  

"The 39 Articles not only rejected transubstantiation but they also reject the ‘Real Presence’ in the sense that the Lutheran churches understood it."

In his definitive work on the Lord’s Supper (which all Anglicans should take the time to read) Archbishop Cranmer takes a line that is pretty much indistinguishable from that of John Calvin.  Those who have faith and receive the bread and wine do truly feed on and receive Jesus Christ because the Holy Spirit unites them to Him through their faith.  The presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper in not around or in the bread and wine but rather in the heart of the believer by a mystery of the Holy Spirit.  Like Calvin, Cranmer rejected a mere memorialism, but he, in the Articles and Liturgy he wrote, supported a form of ‘receptionism.’  

The official reason for rejecting Transubstantiation as given in the Black Rubric is likewise the Reformed argument about Christ’s body being in heaven and it being against His human nature to thus be present in more places than one. 

            But what of so called ‘Calvinism’?  Is Classical Anglicanism ‘Calvinist’?  That would be anachronistic and enforce upon the Anglican Church debates of a later time.  Yet, technicalities aside, it is broadly speaking true that Classical Anglicanism is ‘moderately Calvinist.’   That the CofE was seen as a full part of the Reformed community can be seen in the voting and speaking role given to it at the Synod of Dort - and indeed the way in which the arguments of the British delegation were crucial in forming the final choice of words and thus in delineating the borders of Reformed Protestantism.  The teaching of the Synod of Dort is commonly remembered by the mnemonic TULIP which stands for: Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited (definite) Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and Perseverance of the Saints.  To a large extent these ideas all flow from each other starting with Total Depravity, and many of them are affirmed in the 39 Articles.

            Total Depravity is the concept that by nature, from birth, we are so depraved that we would never choose to turn to God and all of our good deeds are in fact tainted with sin and not pleasing to God.  This doctrine is uncompromisingly affirmed in Articles 9, 10, and 13 where we learn that “Original sin standeth not in the following of Adam, (as the Pelagians do vainly talk;) but it is the fault and corruption of the Nature of every man, that naturally is engendered of the offspring of Adam; whereby man is very far gone from original righteousness, and is of his own nature inclined to evil, so that the flesh lusteth always contrary to the Spirit; and therefore in every person born into this world, it deserveth God's wrath and damnation...” (Article 9) “The condition of Man after the fall of Adam is such, that he cannot turn and prepare himself, by his own natural strength and good works, to faith; and calling upon God. Wherefore we have no power to do good works pleasant and acceptable to God, without the grace of God by Christ preventing us, that we may have a good will, and working with us, when we have that good will.” (Article 10) and “Works done before the grace of Christ, and the Inspiration of his Spirit, are not pleasant to God, forasmuch as they spring not of faith in Jesus Christ; neither do they make men meet to receive grace, or (as the School-authors say) deserve grace of congruity: yea rather, for that they are not done as God hath willed and commanded them to be done, we doubt not but they have the nature of sin” (Article 13)

            If we are totally depraved then there is nothing ‘good’ or deserving in us and thus our election to salvation must be unconditional.  If our election is unconditional then it follows that we cannot do anything to undo it - especially if it was already decided upon before the foundations of the world  - which means that true saints 'Persevere'.  Likewise, if we by nature only ever reject God it follows that if we are ever to accept and obey Him then He must do something to change us and make us do so - that is His grace and choice wins out, it is 'irresistible'.  All of these ideas are affirmed, at least broadly, in Article 17 which is what many would call ‘Calvinist’ in so much as it patently excludes the teachings later promulgated by Arminius:

“Predestination to Life is the everlasting purpose of God, whereby (before the foundations of the world were laid) he hath constantly decreed by his counsel secret to us, to deliver from curse and damnation those whom he hath chosen in Christ out of mankind, and to bring them by Christ to everlasting salvation, as vessels made to honour. Wherefore, they which be endued with so excellent a benefit of God, be called according to God's purpose by his Spirit working in due season: they through Grace obey the calling: they be justified freely: they be made sons of God by adoption: they be made like the image of his only-begotten Son Jesus Christ: they walk religiously in good works, and at length, by God's mercy, they attain to everlasting felicity.
As the godly consideration of Predestination, and our Election in Christ, is full of sweet, pleasant, and unspeakable comfort to godly persons, and such as feel in themselves the working of the Spirit of Christ, mortifying the works of the flesh, and their earthly members, and drawing up their mind to high and heavenly things, as well because it doth greatly establish and confirm their faith of eternal Salvation to be enjoyed through Christ as because it doth fervently kindle their love towards God: So, for curious and carnal persons, lacking the Spirit of Christ, to have continually before their eyes the sentence of God's Predestination, is a most dangerous downfall, whereby the Devil doth thrust them either into desperation, or into wretchlessness of most unclean living, no less perilous than desperation.”  (Article 17)

The acceptance under Archbishop Laud of Arminianism marks the end of Classical Anglicanism for it is the outright rejection of the teaching of Article 17 and those mentioned previously.  

"technicalities aside, it is broadly speaking true that Classical Anglicanism is ‘moderately Calvinist.’"

But what of Definite (Limited) Atonement?  This was simply not a debate when the Articles and Prayer Book were written.   For an in depth discussion of Definite Atonement I suggest you read Lee Gatiss’ book For Us and For Our Salvation

The upshot is that the language of the Historic Formularies merely repeat that of Scripture and thus can be read either way.  The phrase ‘sufficient for all, efficient for some’ seems to be the stance that was taken by many Anglicans such as those at Dort and Archbishop Ussher.  Nonetheless, many Classical Anglicans did hold to Definite Atonement and such teaching is certainly held with its scope.  Ultimately, the teaching of Classical Anglicanism is within the bounds of Reformed faith as laid out at Dort and it is most certainly not Arminian.

To conclude to our investigation to this point; Classical Anglicanism is confessionally Reformed Protestant - hence why at a coronation that British Monarch promises “to the utmost of Your power Maintain the Laws of God the true Profession of the Gospel and the Protestant Reformed Religion Established by Law

Classical Anglicanism is Normative not Regulative

            Whilst Classical Anglicanism is most certainly Reformed, it differs from its continental brethren in one particular way - it rejects the Regulative Principle.  This is why any onlooker at the Synod of Dort would have found every delegate sat in their identical chairs and benches except for the Anglican bishop who had a special chair with a canopy: why?  Because unlike the continental Presbyterians the Anglican Church remained Episcopal.   Presbyterians rejected the three-fold ministry because (rightly or wrongly) in Scripture they saw only two (Deacon and Presbyter) and thus felt that because a three-fold ministry was not officially sanctioned - plainly - in Scripture it must be rejected.  Likewise many only sang Psalms and biblical songs, in fact their whole life and church was regulated by, as far as possible, only what the Bible explicitly confirmed as OK.  

The Anglican Church from the start rejected this approach - so long as it was not condemned in Scripture it is OK to use in the church - this is called the Normative Principle.  In this respect Anglicanism was more akin to Lutheranism and thus can be seen to form a sort of via media between Wittenberg and Geneva though with the emphasis on the Geneva.  Because of holding to the Normative Principle Classical Anglicanism kept certain robes (i.e. those which would not by their nature condemned in Scripture because of their reflecting a sacerdotal priesthood), they kept cathedrals, they kept non-biblical hymns, they kept bishops.

            Classical Anglicanism also differs in that it is institutionally Erastian - that is that the State is supreme in Church matters (no separation of Church and State).  Hence we have all the prayers for the Monarch in our BCP services and Article 37 is distinctly Erastian in tone:  “The King's Majesty hath the chief power in this Realm of England, and other his Dominions, unto whom the chief Government of all Estates of this Realm, whether they be Ecclesiastical or Civil,....  we attribute to the King's Majesty the chief government, by which Titles we understand the minds of some slanderous folks to be offended; we give not our Princes the ministering either of God's Word, or of the Sacraments, the which thing the Injunctions also lately set forth by Elizabeth our Queen do most plainly testify; but that only prerogative, which we see to have been given always to all godly Princes in holy Scriptures by God himself; that is, that they should rule all estates and degrees committed to their charge by God, whether they be Ecclesiastical or Temporal, and restrain with the civil sword the stubborn and evil-doers.”

(On a side note, this Erastianism fulfilled the dream of John Wycliffe who many years before the Reformation sought to take power from the Pope and place it in the hands of the King.  Indeed, whilst far from being a 'home grown Reformation' it is apparent to astute students of history that Wycliffe and the Lollard movement had a powerful effect on the course of the English Reformation on a popular level - the 'Erastianism', the iconoclanism, the strong rejection of transubstantiation, clerical celibacy, and monasteries/pilgrimages whilst maintaining an emphasis on Biblical Law especially as seen in the 10 Commandments which during the Reformation were by law erected in every church in the land and became one of the hallmarks of the BCP Lord's Supper service.)

"Classical Anglicanism is a theological system which can be seen played out in the liturgy of the BCP, but the liturgy of the BCP is not itself ‘Classical Anglicanism’."

            Finally, Classical Anglicanism differed largely from its Presbyterian brethren in that where they merely gave advice on how to lead services the Church of England was at pains to create a largely binding liturgy that should be kept.  I say largely because Cranmer himself and many other bishops in the Classical Period were happy so long as what was said was broadly what was written down and if the sermon went on too long they didn’t mind too much if a bit was cut off here or there.   The reason for this liturgicalism is mostly to do with the nature of the Reformation in England, it was enforced mainly from the top down and so the teaching of the Reformers had to be reliably disseminated across the church to teach both clergy and congregation the glorious truths of the Gospel.  The BCP liturgy is a genius piece of catechism, it is unsurpassed in its didactic presentation of central Christian beliefs.  But it is worth noting a sound of caution on this front - the whole point of the BCP was that the faith was presented in a way that could easily be understood by the people, Cranmer would likely be turning in his grave to think that Edwardian English was still being used in Churches in the 21st century (though he would be even more horrified, indeed he would be positively apoplectic if he ever saw Common Worship Order One!)  Whilst the BCP as a liturgy is a vital part of Anglican identity and should be retained, its chief purpose was always above all else to teach Reformation, Gospel truths and if these are understood by the congregation and minister and the service profoundly publishes there teachings as found the The 39 and the BCP I do not think it fair to say it is ‘un-Anglican’ to depart from it.  Classical Anglicanism is a theological system which can be seen played out in the liturgy of the BCP, but the liturgy of the BCP is not itself ‘Classical Anglicanism’.  

So what is Classical Anglicanism?  Classical Anglicanism is the faith held in the Church of England in pre-Caroline times, it is the faith which is in step with the original Reformers, the faith held down the centuries by the likes of Parker, Grindal, Ussher, Trapp, many of the Puritans, Whitfield, Toplady,  and Ryle.  It is a faith which is confessional, it confesses the one true faith revealed in the Scriptures and witnessed in the Universal Creeds, it is unashamedly Protestant, unapologetically Reformed, and it is happily proud of being under the Normative Principle.


  1. An excellent exposition of Classical Anglicanism -- thank you.

    (P.S.: you should correct "Nominative" [the next to last word in the post] to "Normative.")

  2. Many thanks for the correction A. S. Haley - it has been duly corrected!

  3. Oh that I could find such an Anglican church.

  4. Frankly, I regard all this as a justification for not obeying the prayer book as written and certainly as a continuous tradition. It is a direct contradition, a direct attack on Acts 2:42.


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