If Holy Scripture and Reformational standards are to be our measure the present state of the Anglican Communion is lamentable. Discounting those rare exceptions in academy, diocese, and parish where the roots of Cranmerian and Augustinian doctrine and devotion are still firm, and are flourishing with Gospel witness and works, the Ecclesia Anglicana and its offshoots have taken a terrible tumble into a morass of confusion, vacillation, and imprecision in matters of theological and ethical principle.
Anglicanism is an entity where sound belief is minimal and anything goes. Centuries of gradual drift from historic moorings have suddenly hurtled us into rapids that carry us to a rushing watery precipice of destruction. Seemingly gentle meanderings into alternative streams of freer thought facilitated by Biblical criticism of a skeptical turn, and “innovation” allowed by a recapitulation of Roman thought and practice, markedly weakened the stance of an honored member of the Reformed family of Churches.
Classic Anglicanism has waned as an influence of any importance or effectiveness in the Anglican fold which has become so inclusive and comprehensive as to have become nullified as a force for the unambiguous representation of the message of eternal salvation through Jesus Christ.
So far gone are we from the verities of the Word of God that we marvel at any mitred head that merely pronounces the name of the Saviour and mutters a feeble “Sunday School pupil’s” attempt at expounding disordered (re Ordo Salutis) and diluted elements (soften the matter of sin and its damning consequences) of the Christian faith.
How many public pronouncements of our leadership, especially on great festive occasions when more folk than usual nod towards the Church (and then nod off), would actually lead folk, as desperate and doomed sinners, to faith in the only Redeemer?
Behind the vagueness and moral and socio-political exhortation looms the specter of an easy-going, undemanding, fatally poisonous, notion of universalism, or a soul destroying confidence in sacramentalism and the mechanism operated by a priesthood now Scripturally obsolete (Letter to the Hebrews).
The tragic virus of irrelevancy neutralizes our Western sector of the Anglican Church as an agent of the good news of salvation, and more than that, our waywardness from truth, and into grievous error, imperils immortal souls. Our preoccupations are earthly and not heavenly. We are incapable of fulfilling the Mosaic mandate to “set before Israel life and death, good and evil” (Deut 39:19). We can no longer differentiate or declare these matters.
The seed of our defection is our initial concession to Arminianism (Archbishop Laud and all that) where ultimate choices are man’s and not God’s. Instead of ringing out the glorious, humbling, and encouraging fact of divine sovereignty we have a “god” wringing his hands over the control that recalcitrant men exert over him and his purposes. With God’s “wills and shalls” asserted in Scripture for us to receive (Spurgeon) unconditionally as absolute, Arminianism, as a humanistic philosophy that counters the Word of God, always interposes the arrogant comment “if we concur”. It is the rebel cry of the usurpation of divine prerogatives. Once Arminianisn gains a grip all divine mandates become optional, all divine commands or utterances of desire become negotiable. Religion becomes man-serving, man-pleasing, and church life and practice becomes a hopeless melee.
Many Augustinians and Calvinists are cowed by the vitriolic accusations leveled against them. If we conscientiously preach and teach in faithfulness and love we cannot mute the express revelation of God on vital issues of sin and grace that address our consciences and inform our minds concerning self and a successful and sufficient Savior totally effective in carrying out his Father’s assignment. We have no right to trim the Word of God at the insistence of our critics, or question his wisdom in his disclosure of truth.
Truth is not our property but the Lord’s for us to handle with care and candor under his guidance and skill. We cannot negotiate its clarity and power away at the insistence of anyone – colleagues or controversialists. We must keep our nerve and do what is right with loyalty to God and charitableness to men (in so far as we are able). We are truth-speakers as well as peace-makers.
The present is dire, but from our vantage point the future is not fixed knowledge in our possession as it is in the Lord’s. We have a God who can and does raise up children from stones (Matthew 3:9 cf Ezekiel 36:26). We serve God with this hope ever in our hearts. We have numerous causes of inspiration and encouragement from the past in adhering to a worthy view of God and a salvation surely won for his people however much the Church defects and dithers e.g. ejected minister Christopher Ness (Antidote to Arminianism), energetic apologist Augustus Toplady (Historic Proof of the Doctrinal Calvinism of the Church of England, The Church of England Vindicated From the Charge of Arminianism), accurate preacher George Whitefield (“At least, I am sure, we are all Arminians by nature; and, therefore, no wonder so many natural men embrace that scheme”, solid advocate John Charles Ryle (Old Paths), and perhaps the most passionate of them all, the Church of England’s greatest preacher of the 19th century Hugh McNeile, about whom much more needs to be written and known (Does this character of God, this predestinating sovereignty, this distinguishing grace, this unchanging purpose, belong to the Being before whom we bend our knees? And are we indeed (so far as this truth is concerned) scriptural worshippers of the Lord Jehovah?).
A sovereign God can reverse the impending ruin of the Anglican Communion in our hemisphere. The message of prophet and apostle assures us of this. But it will not come through our editing of the edicts of heaven. It will come only through deliverance from compromise of truth and contention with it. We must not be hasty in settling for retreat or defeat but fervently trust that Scottish Presbyterian divine, William Hastie D.D., will be vindicated in his opinion that, “notwithstanding the vacillation and weakness of its doctrinal development” Anglicanism as a Reformed Church may attain its possible noble destiny in the brotherhood of Reformed Churches: “The ecclesiastical ideal of its Reformers was to make the Church of England the living centre and rallying point of all the Reformed Churches; and if its leaders and guides were to take up this splendid conception again and endeavour to realize it, they might be blessed in doing the greatest work for the Reformed Protestantism that the world has seen since the age of the Reformation” (Theology of the Reformed Church in its Fundamental Principles, T & T Clark, Edinburgh, 1904).
- The Rev. Roger Salter