Humpty Dumpty is famous for his statement: “When I use a word it means just what I want it to mean.” Such an idea was never a mark of truth in the church of Christ Jesus, nor tolerated by her leaders. Words have meaning, and some of those words and their meanings are inviolable.
The Lord Jesus taught that his words would never pass away, and that he said nothing but what the Father wanted him to say. On these two realities is established, for all his true followers, the central guidance for their faith. The words of Jesus cannot be overturned by someone calling themselves a Christian. They are to be obeyed. The central mark of a disciple of the Lord Jesus is his or her determination to abide in the word of Jesus. Because God has revealed his Word to us, we can have confidence in it. Only because of his Word revealed to us in the flesh of his Son, and in the words of Holy Scripture, can we have life eternal.
To maintain the above assertions has been the central task of the orthodox resistance in the Anglican Family for many generations. As moral and theological error crept in, the faithful rose up to oppose it. And always this opposition was rooted in an assumed, if not explicit, doctrine of Holy Scripture. This doctrine was unashamedly thought to be Anglican, yet in recent decades the unity of this doctrinal stance has been severely compromised, sometimes at the highest levels of the communion. Global divisions are forming with significantly different views.
While these travails have afflicted the health of the church, there has been a countervailing trend in the West. Many have joined the community from other branches of the Christian Church, and they have often brought with them a healthy confidence in the truth of the Scriptures. In many a revitalized congregation a significant proportion of the active people were schooled elsewhere in the truths of the Scriptures. They have been a godly leaven in the lump of Anglicanism. But there is another problem that must be faced. What does it mean to be Anglican?
There can be no doubt that to the fathers of the English Reformation to be an Anglican meant to be a Christian. A Christian who lived in England, no doubt, but a Christian first and foremost. It would have been confusing to them to hear someone say their “identity” was Anglican. The fires of martyrdom – when they came – did not consume Anglicans, but Christians, true followers of the Risen Jesus Christ.
What then did the reformers in England mean to be doing as they reorganized and reformed the English Church? What did they bring forward as the unalterable basis for the churches life and witness? Thomas Cranmer, who surely has pride of place for giving an answer, thought it was to restore “the doctrine, sacraments, and discipline of Christ” as that had first been received in England. What did he mean, and what do those words still signify in the 21st century?
Next Week: Rival Opinions