Rival Opinions.  ​​ (by Jon Shuler​​)

Recently the Roman Catholic Church declared a former Anglican clergyman, John Henry Newman, to be a “Saint.” He is considered one of the founders of a nineteenth century movement in the English Church, sometimes called the Anglo Catholic Revival, which gradually altered much of the global community of churches which descended out of the one from which he departed. Another movement, broadly called Evangelical, emerged from the eighteenth century Great Awakening in England and has exerted a strong influence on the Church of England and many of her daughter churches. Similarly, twentieth century changes stemming from the charismatic movement, and the subsequent influence of the teaching of John Wimber and the Vineyard movement, have marked many corners of the Anglican world with a pentecostal stamp. Yet all the while, official statements have continued to be made in many quarters which suggest the doctrines of the sixteenth century English Reformation are still foundational. These rival theological opinions, and others not mentioned, now coexist in a global community so diverse as to be considered, by some, as pathologically dysfunctional.

How then can a new reformation come to any settled resolution without some standard of teaching that is actually embraced by the members of the church? How can an honest appeal be made to the “doctrine, sacraments, and discipline of Christ as this church and realm has received the same?” What did Cranmer mean? The bishops and theologians who enshrined the English Reformation in formal doctrinal teaching after Cranmer’s death certainly thought they knew.

Any honest reading of Cranmer’s Ordinal (1550); the Book of Common Prayer (1549/52), and the Articles of Religion (1571) will clearly illuminate the first two of Cranmer’s dicta. The “doctrine” was that of the Early Church as revealed in the New Testament. The “sacraments” were those two evidenced in the gospels: Holy Baptism and Holy Communion. To illuminate the third,“discipline,” recourse must be made to English usage of the time. In the sixteenth century discipline implied training, or as we might say today mentoring, not the exercise of punishment. It referred to the pattern by which the church made true disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ and maintained due order. It referred to the discipling of the young done by parents, the discipling of new ordained leaders by those already ordained, and the discipling of a new generation of scholarly theologians by those who had gone before.

If it is conceded that a historical enquiry reveals a clear answer to the question of what Cranmer meant by Anglican, it is indisputable that Anglican “doctrine, sacraments, and discipline” aligns the Church of England and its claims with the broad sweep of the sixteenth century Protestant Reformation. It roots everything important in the conviction that Holy Scripture is, as the Lambeth Quadrilateral (1888) would later assert, the “rule and standard of the Faith.” And it centers the gospel life of the church in the local congregation. But does this solve the many problems of division and dispute in the early twenty-first century?


Next Week: Can Cranmer’s Standard Stand?

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