Episcopal Evangelical Heritage

As we continue this occasional series of principles suggested by Richard Baxter for those who would like to avoid fomenting division in the church, he has some questions for the clergy of his day, and perhaps of ours, concerning their attitudes towards those from whom they differ

Principle IV
If others shew their weakness by any unreasonable opinions or divisions, show not your greater weakness by passionate, impatient or uncharitable criticism of them: especially when self-interest provokes you.

None usually are so spleenishly impatient at the weakness of Dissenters or Separatists as their Pastors are. And what is the cause? Is it because the Pastors abound in Love for the souls of those who offend, or those who are endangered by them? If so, I have no more to say to them. But when we see that the honor and self-interest of the Pastors is most deeply concerned in the business, and that they are carried by their impatience into more uncharitable behavior than the others are by their separation from them; and when we see that they put up with such sins as this in themselves; and that they can bear with such sins in people with plenty of patience when their own self-interest does not raise their passions; in such cases we have reason enough to fear that pride and selfishness have too great a part in much of the schism in the world.

Parents must not be so patient with sin, as to leave their children uncorrected: But correction must not be the effect of impatience, but of Love and Wisdom and dislike of sin, and must be chosen and measured so as to cure it. It’s one thing to be angry on God’s behalf against sin, and it’s another thing to be angry on our own behalf because our wills and interests have been challenged: And it’s one thing to correct so as to achieve a cure, and another thing to exact revenge.

Is it seemly for those who are the fathers of the flock and should excel their people in Love and lowliness, in patience and gentleness and meekness, to be so proud and passionate, as to storm against conscientious persons, because they reject our Ministry, and submit to others who are as able and as faithful and more profitable to them than we? When we can more easily bear with a swearer or drunkard or the families that are prayerless and ungodly, than with the most religious, because they do not choose our Ministry, but prefer some others as more edifying? When we can bear with them that have no understanding or seriousness in Religion at all, but make the world or their lusts their idols, but cannot bear with the weak irregularities of the most upright and devout? And to shew the height of our pride, we still are confident that we are the persons only that are in the right, and therefore that all are in the right that follow us, and all are in the wrong that turn away from us; That it is Unity and duty to follow us and adhere to us, and all are Schismaticks who forsake us and choose others. And thus the selfishness and Pride of the Pastors, making an imprudent and impatient stir against all who dislike them, and applauding all however bad who adhere to them and follow them, is as great a cause of the disorders of the Church, as the weakness and errors of the people.

Language modernised a bit; originally published in 1670.


Anglican Bishop in Egypt Mouneer Anis addresses the Mere Anglicanism conference in South Carolina on the Word of God for the Anglican Communion:

“There are four areas:
1) the importance of the Word of God as we see it in the Bible
2) The importance of the Word of God as affirmed by the early Anglican reformers, the Thirty Nine articles and Lambeth Resolutions
3) Where we have fallen
4) How we recover the importance of the Word of God for our Anglican Communion today.”

Read it all here.

From his sermon outline on the Nativity of Christ:

“By him all who believe have peace with God (Isaiah 12:1, Romans 5:1); he plants peaceable dispositions in the hearts of his subjects (James 3:17); his government promotes peace in the world (Hebrews 12:14); and when the nations of the earth bow down to him, and acknowledge him as their Sovereign, they shall learn war no more (Isaiah 2:4).”

May the Prince of Peace establish his peace among us this Christmastide!

With Thanksgiving Vespers at hand this evening, I briefly considered reading an old time sermon for tonight.  A quick Google search with the words “Anglican, Episcopal, sermon, Thanksgiving” yielded this interesting tidbit from Absalom Jones at Project Canterbury.  It seems especially apropos considering the OT Reading in the Lectionary for Thanksgiving Day.

There are many chains that human sinfulness places into the hands of Satan, whereby we are made slaves.  It can be the literal slavery of Israel or the African diaspora in America.  It can be the figurative slavery of drugs and alchohol, codependent relationships, or a broken sexuality.  Yet I am reminded of the chorus of an old Gospel song, “Jesus breaks every fetter.  Jesus breaks every fetter.  Jesus breaks every fetter, and He sets me free.”  Let us give thanks to the God who rescues us from shackles both without and within.  He who the Son sets free is “free indeed” (John 8:36).

Thanks to Bruce Robison for pointing out this helpful piece on Anglicanism by Gerald Bray, here. These words were especially interesting, I thought: “Tragically, it seems that the current spiritual lethargy of Anglicanism in the English-speaking world is connected to the demise of the Prayer Book since the 1960s. However, there is still a faithful remnant that keeps its witness alive, both in the traditional 1662 form and in modern-language adaptations, and there are signs that a spiritual renewal may be developing that will influence the Anglican Communion in the next generation.”

Many Evangelicals in the Church of England at the time thought the 1662 book a sad decline from its predecessors, giving too much glory to bishops and re-establishing unbiblical ceremonies that had been little used for a generation. I think they had a point, but the declines since have made the situation so much worse that a return to 1662 would be progress beyond my wildest dreams.

Written for all who teach the faith, clergy, Bible study leaders, parents etc

In all your public teaching and private conversation, stress the necessary conjunction of holiness and peace; and of the love of God and man; and make your hearers understand that love is their holiness, and the sum of their religion; the goal of faith, the heart of sanctification, and the fulfilling of the law: And that as love of God units us to Him, so love of man unites us to one another. All teaching or practice which is against love and unity is against God and against Christ and against the great work of the Spirit, and is enmity to the Church and to mankind. Press these things on them all the year, that your hearers may be bred up and nourished with these principles from their youth.

IF ever the church is to recover from its wounds, it must be by the peaceable dispositions of clergy and people. And if ever they are to come to a peaceable disposition, it must be by peaceable doctrine and principles: by the full and frequent explication of the nature, pre-eminence, necessity and power of love: that they may hear of it so much, and so long, till Love be made their religion, and become the natural constitution of their souls. And if ever anyone is to be brought to this, it must be by daily drawing it from those breasts which nourish them in the infancy and youth of their religion, and by learning it as the sum of Godliness and Christianity. The older experienced ripe and mellow clergy and people must instil it into those still learning, and into the younger clergy, that there may be nothing so commonly in their ears and in their studies, as Uniting-Love: that they may be taught to know that God is Love, and that he that dwells in love dwells in God, and God in him (I John 4. 16). And that the love of God always works towards His image in man (I John 4. 7, 11, 12, 20). And that all people have some of God’s image in their nature, in that they have reason and the power to choose (Genesis 9.6). And therefore we must love men as men, and saints as saints; it is love of God and man, which is true holiness, and the new creation, to which Christ came to bring back fallen man, and for which the Holy Spirit is sent, and for which all the means of grace are intended and fitted, and for which they must be used, or they are misused. In a word, that FAITH WORKING BY LOVE, or LOVE and THE WORKS OF LOVE KINDLED BY THE SPIRIT BY FAITH IN CHRIST, is the sum of all the Christian Religion (Galatian 5. 6, 13, 22, I Timothy 1. 5).

He that proclaims holiness and zeal, without a due commemoration of love and peace, deceives his hearers about that very holiness and zeal which he commends.

Language modernised a bit; it was published in 1670, after all. ‘plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose‘…

The Episcopal Trojan Horse

A Reflection by John Newton, of the Church of the Messiah, St Paul, Minnesota

I could hear the creak of its wheels as it was led slowly up to the gate. In this case it was not the well-known four-legged wooden horse that was left outside the walled city of Troy, but a three-legged contrivance, popularly known as the “three-legged stool”.

Over the course of the past generation or so, the three-legged stool has virtually become a holy object, an unassailable principle used uncritically to explain the ethos of the Episcopal Church. The three legs of the stool, we are told, are Scripture, Reason, and Tradition.

The argument goes basically along these lines: We are a church that gives authority to the Bible. But the Bible alone, we are told, is not enough. After all, it was written hundreds of years ago within the context of primitive worldviews, and does not address many of the complex issues of our present time. So in jumps Reason, offering us all the insights of contemporary physics, biology, anthropology, medicine, psychology, and sociology, along with numerous other fields of research. Besides that, we live in a cultural context today that is distinct and different from previous centuries. Indeed people all over the world have grown up in different “traditions”, and we need to “listen” to them all.

Now to the contemporary mind there can be something very attractive in all of that. Yet before we open the gate, we need to ask, “Where did this notion come from?” Do we find it in any of our Anglican formularies? Is it in any of the creeds, the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion, or any of the ordination vows required of deacons, priests and bishops?

If you ask, you will be told it comes from Richard Hooker (1554-1600), a Church of England clergyman who spent much of his life toiling over an eight-volume opus entitled Of the Lawes of Ecclesiastical Politie. However, search as long as you will and you will find no reference to the three-legged stool in Hooker’s work. The closest you will come is this single sentence:

“What Scripture doth plainly deliver, to that the first place both of credit and obedience is due; the next whereunto is whatsoever any man can necessarily conclude by force of reason; after these the voice of the Church succeedeth.” (Laws, Book V, 8:2)

For Hooker, as with Anglicans down the centuries and around most of the world today, Scripture was preeminent. As Article 6 of our Articles of Religion states, “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 not to say that we ignore reason and tradition. Historian Arthur P. Monahan writes “For Hooker reason was God’s greatest gift to human beings, giving them the capacity to understand God’s plan for reality as a whole and situate themselves within it.” Theologian Peter Toon adds, “By ‘the voice of the Church’ [Hooker] meant the major decisions of ecumenical councils and of national churches which relate to important matters on which Scripture is silent or only supplies hints.”

Dr Grant LeMarquand at Trinity School for Ministry helpfully suggests that we think not of a three-legged stool, but of a tricycle, with Scripture as the front wheel. Godly reason and tradition (more precisely, “the voice of the Church”) may offer a degree of stability. But it is the Scriptures that give us both propulsion and direction. May they continue to be for us “a lamp for our feet and a light for our path”, sweeter to our taste than honey.

John Newton, Church of the Messiah, St Paul, Minnesota

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