Evangelical History


Another in our series of extracts from Richard Baxter’s Cure of Church Divisions, published in 1670, in the hope of preventing presbyterians and congregationalists leaving the Church of England after the 1662 Act of Uniformity. As long as Christians are still dividing and being divided, Baxter’s examination of the attitudes that lead to division remains relevant.

Direction V:

Distinguish between those who separate from the Universal Church, or from all the Orthodox or purest and Reformed parts of it, and those who only forsake the Ministry of some one person, or sort of persons, without refusing Communion with the rest.

As many occasions may warrant a removal from a particular Church, but nothing can excuse a separation from the Universal Church, so he that separateth only from some particular Churches, and yet is a member of the Universal Church, may also be a member of Christ and be saved. He may be a Christian who is no member of your flock, or of any particular Church, but he is no Christian who is no member of the Universal Church. Paul and Barnabas may in the heat of a difference part from one another, and yet neither of them part from Christ or the Church-Universal.

I do not excuse the fault of those who sin against any one Church or Pastor: but I would not have the clergy sin too by making the fault of those separating greater than it is; nor to let their own interest lead them to call men schismatics or separatists, in a sense for which they have no ground. If they can learn more by another minister than by me, what reason have I to be offended at their edification, though perhaps some infirmity of judgement may appear in it. A true mother that knoweth her child is like to thrive better by a nurses milk than by her own, will be so far from hatred or envy either at the nurse or child, that she will consent, and be thankful, and pay the nurse. Solomon made it the sign of the false mother, that could bear the dividatur, the hurt of the child for her own commodity; and of the true mother, that she had rather lose her commodity than the child should suffer. And Paul giveth God thanks that Christ was preached, even though it was by them that did it in strife and envy. He is not worthy of the name of a physician, who had rather the patients health were deplorate, than that he should be healed by another who is preferred before him. If I knew that man by whom the salvation of my flock were like to be more happily promoted than by me (whatever infirmity of theirs might be the cause) I should think my self a servant of Satan the envious enemy of souls, if I were against it.

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Church of England Evangelical priest and blogger Julian Mann has written a piece on John Stott for Virtue OnLine entitled ‘Evangelicals More Coherent if John Stott had backed Reform’. It’s an interesting piece, and there are comments well worth reading by those who read Mann’s re-publication of it on his own blog.

But just as interesting as any of his arguments in favor of Reform‘s position on this or that is his apparent inability or unwillingness to see that Evangelicals would also be more coherent if Reform had backed John Stott. Of course we (no matter who we are) are more coherent if we are of only one opinion rather than two. But if we are of two, and the two are sincerely held, why should those of either opinion expect the other to set theirs aside and ‘back’ those with whom they do not agree?

Evangelicals believe the Bible is the word of God, and therefore try to draw their opinions from it, but not all end up with the same opinion even so. Those who believe that Evangelical unity is important have no choice but to accept the co-existence of the opinions, or to believe that one opinion is not sincerely held. And since the Bible says that man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart, a case could be made that it is unbiblical arrogance for either side to claim that they know the other to be insincere. And to ask someone who sincerely believes he is obeying God’s word to obey another Evangelical instead—what could that be called?

Limping along with two opinions is clearly not God’s will for us, but neither is submission to a fellow-Evangelical whom we believe has misunderstood God’s word. We have to come up with a better solution than that.

John Stott, who transformed Anglican Evangelicalism, sleeps today where he has lived for over seventy years, in Christ. There’s nothing the Barnabas Project can add to the obituaries, a selection of which can be read here and here and here, except to say how much he supported the ministry of Evangelicals in the Episcopal Church when he had the opportunity, urging people to stay and work for the reform of the church rather than leave it. Memorial services are being planned in London, Wheaton, New York, Dallas, Vancouver, Sydney, Melbourne, Auckland, Delhi, Bangalore, and no doubt more to be announced. A memorial web-site has been established here by the Langham Partnership, the hub of his ministry for the last few years, and designated by him to carry it on into the future.

We truly will not see his like again. But God uses all of us, so let’s continue to work for the reform of the Episcopal Church anyway.

Bruce Robison (yes, that one) reminds us that it isn’t only the Methodists with whom Anglicans in some places have been moving towards agreement (see previous post below). The possibility of rapprochement with the United Reformed Church (consisting of most of England’s Presbyterians and Congregationalists) is also on the agenda of Church of England’s upcoming synod.

The United Reformed Church are the descendants of the Evangelicals who would not go along with the stricter standards of conformity imposed upon them by the Church of England in 1662, and who left the church rather than conform. There seemed to be a lot of them at the time; about a thousand clergy found themselves without ministry unless they gathered a church of their own, although I don’t think they gathered a thousand such churches, and their numbers relative to the population have steadily declined since. Today there are about 1500 local URC churches, including those in Scotland and Wales, and about 700 clergy.

If the Synod approves—or rather ‘takes note’ of—this report, there will be a joint service for the United Reformed Church and the Church of England at Westminster Abbey next February. “The service should contain an expression of penitence for our part in perpetuating the divisions of the past, a desire for the healing of memories and an act of commitment to work more closely together in the future. In the new climate created by the joint act of reconciliation and commitment, further joint work should be undertaken on certain topics, mainly concerning ministry and authority.”

What is the Anglican part in perpetuating these divisions of the past? The insistence that there is no valid ordination without a bishop, and that in the worship of the Church that which is not forbidden is compulsory. ‘Ministry and authority’ with a vengeance, it seemed in 1662. Anglican Evangelicals have generally sympathised with the non-conformists on these matters, although they didn’t agree they were issues worth breaking fellowship over. Given the strength of Evangelicals in today’s C of E, it’s hard to imagine the process not beginning next February; bishops, even Evangelical bishops, being what they are, it’s less clear that there will be speedy progress. But Richard Baxter would be pleased.

From Peter Adam, writing in the online journal The Theologian:

At least two groups of writers on Puritanism prefer the theory that Puritans cannot be Anglicans, nor can Anglicans be Puritans.  Some Non-Conformists take this stance because they want to emphasise the gulf between Anglicanism and Puritanism, to show that true Puritanism is found outside Anglicanism. Some Anglican writers take this stance because they want to claim that Puritanism has no place in mainstream Anglicanism.

However Patrick Collinson has shown that Puritanism was part of Anglicanism: ‘our modern conception [that] Anglicanism commonly excludes puritanism is…a distortion of part of our religious history,’ and A. G. Dickens claims that ‘Puritanism in our sense was never limited to Nonconformists; it was a powerful element in the origins of the Anglican Church and it was through that Church that it won its abiding role in the life and outlook of the nation.’

The leaders of Puritan Anglicans included: Archbishop Grindal of Canterbury, who tried to defend Puritan practice against the attacks of Queen Elizabeth; Archbishop Williams of York, author of The Holy Table, Name and Thing, a sturdy defence of the Reformed theology and practice of the Lord’s Supper; and Archbishop Ussher of Armagh, who together with Richard Baxter promoted a Reformed model of Primitive Episcopacy. Nigel Atkinson has shown that Richard Hooker, that great architect of Anglicanism, was clearly in the Reformed tradition, and was closer to Calvin in theology than some of his Puritan critics. Even in the days of the Commonwealth, 300 Episcopal Puritans [called ‘Evangelicals’ by a contemporary writer] used to meet regularly in Oxford for Anglican worship…

Just a reminder of the heritage we contemporary Evangelicals ought to live up to, or to which we ought to live up.

The Queen’s visit to Ireland has been, by all accounts, a great success, symbolising a real decline in animosity between two groups that have until recently been dedicated to ending each other’s existence. Colm Toíbín, whose grandfather took part in the 1916 Easter Uprising, wrote an article in the Guardian and pointed out that among the many who have helped bring about this decline were

historians, who had begun to write about the sheer complexity of the relationship between the two islands over many centuries, insisting that the campaign of violence in the name of history misrepresented history in all its layers, nuances and ironies.

Partisan history is still one of the biggest difficulties Evangelicals face, no matter where they are in the Anglican Communion, but especially here in the Episcopal Church. One of  the most important tools of the 19th Century Anglo-Catholic revival was a view of history that supported the cause. The Anglo-Catholic History Society played a major role in this, and there is, as far as I know, an evangelical equivalent only in Australia. But it’s also true that most of the partisan history was written in previous generations, and what we face now is merely the assumption, even by Evangelicals, is that the received story, which portrays Evangelicals in the Episcopal Church as illegal immigrants, if not hostile invaders, is true.

The Ecclesiastical History Society’s annual conference this year is on the theme The Church on its Past, and will begin with a discussion on the question ‘What has Church history ever done for the Church?’ For most of the history of the Christian Church, the answer would have to be ‘provide ammunition for factional wars’. We have already noted on this blog some signs that historians may be interrupting the  supply of the ammunition that has been used against Evangelicals in the past (here, for instance), but there is a long way to go before the complexity of the relationship between the various parties in Anglicanism over the centuries will be fully examined.

But the current movement is in the right direction; anything that Evangelicals can do to contribute to it, and to acquaint themselves and others with the results of it, will be well done.

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