Sunday, September 5, 2010

Navigating Anglican Churchmanship

Anglican churchmanship has become increasingly difficult to navigate due to the "victory" of the latitudinarian viewpoint in the 19th century but which continues to dominate official Anglican thought to this day. Church authorities in the late 18th and early 19th centuries didn't want to interfere too much with Church politics and wanted to broaden theological persepctives in the Church of England. This attitude was probably facilitated due to the Civil War earlier in the early 1600's which disestablished the Church of England and established a form of Presbyterianism in England for a brief period.

The first traces of churchmanship as we know it are found in the Elizabethan era. This is the period after the reign of Bloody Mary. Elizabeth ascended to the throne and re-established the state, Protestant Church under the Elizabeth Settlement and Act of Uniformity, which did not define doctrine in any substantial way, except providing the 1559 Prayer Book (the Articles would be enacted in 1563). During this time, there were the puritans, who were anything but a homogenous group, however, the one overall characteristic they shared was the view that the Settlement was not far enough in a Reformation direction and further liturgical and doctrinal reforms were necessary. At the same time, however, there were others who wanted to return to some of the ceremonial and doctrine of the pre-Reformation Church. These disparate groups were expected to live side by side. However, these factions were not churchmen like we experience today, but, rather, different factions of a fragile church who sought to form the fragile church in their own image. The hostility between the factions only grew with time and especially during the reign of Charles I, who was supportive of the Arminian Archbishop of Canterbury, William Laud, who was an anti-puritan. Here is a summary of the church factions at the time of Charles I:

"The spectrum of English religious life at this time was well summarized
by Neill (1958, pp.140-142). On the right stood the recusants, those who still
remained faithful to the Church of Rome. Next came ‘those who in a later age have
been called high churchmen, but were then more generally known as Arminians’.
Next came the episcopalian Calvinists, those who were content with the episcopal
nature of the Church of the Elizabethan settlement. Next came the Calvinists who
still looked for their model of a reformed Church to the European models of
presbyterian and congregational churches. Still further to the left came the
sectaries, separatists or independents: ‘whereas the upper-middle-class man tended
to adopt an Erastian form of presbyterianism, the lower-middle-class man often
became a separatist’ (Davies, 1937, p.193). Finally came ‘the lunatic fringe – the
Fifth Monarchy men, the Seekers, the Levellers, and so forth’."

Under Oliver Cromwell, English Puritans rose and executed Charles I and William Laud and abolished the episcopal Church of England and established in its place a presbyterian body. In lieu of the Book of Common Prayer, the Directory for Public Worship was released, which followed continental liturgics instead of the Cranmerian liturgy. The period ended in 1660 with the re-establishment of the monarchy, Prayer Book, and episcopacy. The Laudian school of thought became dominant in the Restoration and in the Act of Uniformity which restored the episcopal Church of England. The Restoration bishops required ministers who had not been episcopally-ordained during the period of the Commonwealth to be re-ordained and to subscribe to the new Prayer Book. Puritans objected because they accused the bishops of denying their ministries and they were opposed to kneeling to receive Communion and the surplice, among other things. Around 2,000 Puritan clergy left their parishes in opposition to the Restoration Church. Besides the Laudians, another group became prominent during the Commonwealth, the Latitudinarians. These churchmen stressed human reason and argued that humans were guided by divine providence through their reasons. Thus, they tended to allow more diversity in the expression of Christianity. During this time we have the first manifestation of a developing churchmanship. "High Churchmen" were those who stressed obedience the Established Church including the requirements of Puritan clergy, while "Low Churchmen" favored reconciliation with the Dissenters and supported ways of including them in the national church.

The next major development in the Church was the Non-Juror schism, which without getting into detail, had to do with a question of swearing allegiance to William and Mary. Most High-Church Bishops would not swear allegiance to the new king and were subsequently deprived of their sees and ended up in the Church of Scotland. William appointed many latitudinarian bishops to replace the Non-jurors' sees. During this time, "high church" came to mean what it means today, in a general sense, and "low church" was increasingly used to describe the latitudinarians. During the next century, latitudinarianism dominated the thought of the Church, which consequently led to radicalization from both sides in the high and low traditions. Beginning in the 18th century, the Evangelical movement had begun in England, first with the Methodists and later on through the Evangelical Revival. The Evangelicals were distinct from low churchmen who were the latitudinarian party in the Church. The Evangelicals stressed inner religion and renewal of the heart. They thought the religion of the Church had become too rationalistic and dry.

Ironically, it was the same concern which began the Oxford Movement in 1833. A group of Anglican scholars at Oxford had grown increasingly dissatisfied with the moral laxity of the Established Church and with its inherent Erastianism. They began to look to the Early Church and pre-Reformation Church for inspiration to maintain the catholicity of the Church of England. Their method of change for the Church was to publish a series of "tracts' hence acquiring the name "Tractarianism" for their movement. As time moved on, Tractarians separated from the earlier High Churchmen in significant ways. One author describes it as such, "High Churchmen took as their standard of catholicity the Anglican formularies supported by scripture and antiquity; Tractarians used the appeal to antiquity to correct and supplement the Anglican formularies." The Oxford Movement began acquiring new members with new ideas about the renewal of Catholic identity in the Church. One such grou was the Camden Society or the Ecclesiological Society, who wanted more ritual and decoration in churches. Their tastes were largely reminiscent of the Gothic Revival in Europe. They began imitating then contemporary Roman practices, which aroused much suspicion in the English people and caused the equation of Tractarians with Romanizing tendencies. During this time, also, the Broad Church party emerged, probably from the earlier latitudinarian churchmen but mostly influenced by German liberal Protestant theology and biblical scholarship. Up into the pre-war era, they continued to grow in the Church.

By the pre-war time, ritualistic Tractarians, now called Anglo-Catholics, were campaigning for ritualistic implementation in the Church of England. During this time, we also see the fragmentation of these groups into conservative and liberal factions as well as the introduction of a charismatic faction in the church. This time, however, was the time of ascendency for Anglo-Catholics, who were gaining leadership in the church and winning some of the ritualistic battles such as vestments, candles, and most notably the Parish Communion Movement. The movement sought to restore the Communion service as the main Sunday liturgy as the Reformers and Early Church had done. The one party who was losing was the old High Church party, which had almost completely disappeared by the 20th century, except for a certain few old-fashioned clergy and some dormant theology in the pews. In modern times, Anglo-Catholicism has splintered into different factions such as the liberal Affirming Catholicism, Prayer Book Catholicism (probably where many High Churchmen took refuge, although a dying breed in England), Anglo-Papalism, and the Forward in Faith crowd. Evangelicals have splintered into Conservative and "Open" factions, as well as what I call "neo-evangelicals" such as in the Sydney Diocese in Australia, who have largely abandoned liturgical worship. Also, there are "Convergentist" evangelicals in the US who are not really Evangelical Anglicans at all but rather champions of Convergence theology and largely Arminian charismatics. The Broad Church philosophy still dominates church politics in the global Anglican Communion, especially in the Anglophone world.

More about what this means in the next post...

Citations in this post from this page:

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