Morwenstow Church North Cornwall, (A typical Rural Parish Church)
To the outsider the Church of England presents a very confusing picture and always has done. Amid the convulsions of religion in the sixteenth century the Anglican Church had a character and a story which are hard to fit into the conventional categories of Continental Christianity. The Anglican was and is a complex blend of Lutheranism, Calvinism, and Catholicism. Our Church grew into its distinctive position under the shelter of the supremacy of the English Monarchy. Its story is bound up with the greed and intrigues of Tudor statesmen. However the Church of England cannot be explained in terms of politics alone.
Anglicanism bore a spiritual witness, if only by linking together what Christians had torn asunder elsewhere. – the Gospel of God, which had made the Reformers what they were, and the old historical structure which the Reformers as a whole had rejected but without which the Gospel itself lacks its full and proper expression.
The impact of Luther and Calvin is seen not only in the 39 Articles but in the general return of the Bible as the ruling element in faith and piety. However it appealed to the Holy Scriptures along very different lines from those of the Lutherans and Calvinists. The Church of England also appealed to the Primitive Church and saw that scripture centres in the fact of Christ himself.
Prominent in the old structure which the Anglicans retained was the Episcopate. the reasons given for this ministry varied; for the stress and the strain of controversy was intense, and the Anglican position had to be defended often self consciously against Rome and the Puritans without, and the pressures of the more extreme Reformers within.
I haven’t gone into details, but Anglicanism is a rich cake containing many ingredients that clash and don’t always mix successfully. The average Anglican somehow manages to exist in happy tension with those who within the same church differ radically from fellow members.
One part of me would like to go along with traditional Latin Christendom, but the other half realizes that this cannot be and walks with the Reformers. One treads a tight rope and the danger of falling off is a continual hazard.
Within the same church all shades of opinion can be found. Remaining an Anglican and a faithful Christian amid the very uncertain vicissitudes of these times requires a quiet steadfastness and trust in the God of the Bible as revealed in Christ Jesus.
My modern hero in the C of E is Archbishop Rowan Williams. His career certainly ended in the public eye. And it could hardly be called a success, in conventional terms. It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that those who have been exasperated, dumbfounded and distressed by the leadership of Rowan Williams would have been terribly disappointed by Jesus.
It’s hard to think of a diatribe leveled at the former head of the Anglican Communion that is not, in reality a diatribe directed at our crucified Lord himself. Jesus and Rowan Williams can both be infuriating at times. But they’re infuriating for largely the same reasons.
The kindly face of Anglicanism.