I want to begin a series of posts which will lay out for you, the reader, some suggestions that I have as to how we can begin to rebuild Anglicanism, from the ground up. This blog has been dedicated to exploring some of the historical issues associated with Anglican churchmanship; now I want to offer my ideas about how to solve some of the problems which have crept up over the past hundred years with little challenge, especially in the Protestant Episcopal Church.
I compare our Church to a crumbling house, one that is imploding on itself. The question arises, what causes a building to fall? The answer I think of is that the foundation is not sturdy enough to hold the building up. I think this is exactly what has happened to our Church over the years. We have the problem as conservatives, especially, of claiming that liberals have misinterpreted Anglican theology but on what basis do we make that claim? Therein lies the problem, from my perspective, the theological and liturgical authority of the Book of Common Prayer and the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion has been eroded over time, since the Oxford Movement, so that now they are ignored by clergy and unknown to many laity. This is simply unacceptable for a Church. What other Church ignores her foundation? Most people know the Episcopal Church as being "Catholic lite" that is only because we have willfully ignored our own tradition to the extent that no one knows what our Church is really all about, except, perhaps, somewhat of a liturgical appreciation society for disaffected Romans who dislike their own Church's marital discipline. My friends, this is simply unacceptable.
There is a theological authority in the Anglican tradition and that is found in several documents, which together make up what we call formularies. This word is not a commonplace word in contemporary English parlance, thus I will quote an excellent summation of the nature of formularies from an older Prayer Book Society article, "Anglican Formularies - Are Evangelicals really missing out?":
"Perhaps here is the right place to reflect for a moment on the word “Formulary”, which is not a word in common usage, but an important word, nevertheless, as it has been used in serious Anglican discourse consistently since the sixteenth century. The Latin word, formularius (liber) [=a book of formulae], on which it is based, pointed to a collection of set forms or instructions for the performance or direction of a ceremony or an official duty. Thus a “formulary’ within a national Church is a book which contains the set forms and rules of what the Church believes, teaches and confesses, the liturgy it uses, and the way it creates the ordained Ministry. In reforming itself in the sixteenth century, the Ecclesia Anglicana reformed its Formularies (those which had been in force in the medieval period) to create three new ones – The Book of Common Prayer, The Book of Ordination Services [Ordinal] and The Thirty-Nine Articles, along with a new edition of Canon Law. Under the authority of Scripture, these summed up and presented the standards, norms and means by which the reformed Church of England sought to be the national jurisdiction of the Catholic Church of God. These Formularies not only provided the way to worship and serve God daily but they also distinguished the Church of England from other jurisdictions in Scotland and Europe. Take away the Formularies and leave only the Bible and what you have is a Church without shape, form and substance for there are no common standards or guidelines to govern all the many parts and keep them together as one."
Peter Toon (I presume wrote this) adequately defines what a formulary is and I think presents it in a good contrast to a confession. This will serve to ease the objections of certain Churchmen to an allegiance to the Articles, for to them it stinks of Puritan confessionalism. While I would contend this definition of confessionalism, it is fine by my book to distinguish between formularies and confessions (for that reason they are called Articles). The formularies are not as exhaustive as other Protestant confessions and allow for that sense of comprehensiveness which is characteristic of our tradition. The article does a good job of pointing out that there are more than one source for the formularies: the Book of Common Prayer, the Ordinal, the Articles of Religion, and the Homilies (Toon doesn't mention them). Also, historical canons should be considered; the more important volume is the set of 1604, which were the canonical standards in England until the 20th century. I will treat each source separately to consider how its use would be benefitial for us.
The Book of Common Prayer
Arguably the most important document for Anglicans, I will not consider its history or contents here as this deserves its own time and space. The Book of Common Prayer is primarily a liturgical document meant to define and set boundaries to our public and private prayer. But as Anglicans we know that liturgy is shaped and shapes theology according to the principle of lex orandi, lex credendi. Therefore, the BCP is also a theological document for us. The BCP has important things to say about Baptism and Communion and other important theological matters. However, considering its liturgical purpose, the Prayer Book defines biblical worship by limiting our prayer to those things which are agreeable to Scripture.
The BCP should be reinstituted in our minds as the liturgical standard for Anglicanism. Let me be clear as to what I am not saying. I do not think that the solution for Anglicans is to begin using an edition of the classical BCP tomorrow, although I don't think that would hurt us. The real issue is to absorb the theology of the BCP first and then use its forms. I am not of the mind that adopting Elizabethan English will solve our theological problems for I know of many heretics who can read Elizabethan English. I think eventually the restoration of truly Common Prayer needs to be accomplished but I think that is a "phase two" aspect of Anglican restoration. The BCP in its traditional form requires a certain sense of decency lacking in modern circles which has to be acquired by abandoning all forms of Popery and newfangled pop religion.
The BCP limits us from these departures from historic Anglican practices such as Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, Rosaries, Novenas, Purgatory, unreformed Masses, Requiems, "hymn sandwiches," conference-style worship, etc. all which are departures from our tradition.
Nowadays the Ordinal is printed in the BCP but it used to be a separate booklet. It is primarily concerned with Ordination. The Ordinal keeps us in a godly frame of mind when thinking of the Christian ministry. The apostolic order requires the orders of bishops, priests, and deacons serving in ministry in Christ's Church. The Ordinal guards us against unorderly conduct in ordination such as to think we can ordain our own ministers as is the case in Nonconformist churches and also from the error of sacerdotalism common in Romanism and Eastern Orthodoxy. The classical Ordinal also guards us from the error of the ordination of women, which is a departure from apostolic order and witness.
The Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion
Arguably the least known of the formularies and often most ignored, deliberately. The Articles are meant to give a theological interpretation of the BCP and also address certain issues of the time in which they were written. In fact, this is one of the arguments against their applicability today. Many argue that they are a relic of the past, only drawn up to answer 16th century problems (tell that to an African primate!). While it is true that the Articles of Religion were written in response to sixteenth century problems, they still hold today as the authoritative, theological standard for Anglicanism. A similar line of argument could be used to justify liberal theology, was not the Nicene Creed a response to fourth century issues? It is important to note here that the 39 Articles do not necessitate Calvinism for the holder (although they do not preclude it). The Articles are subject to interpretation as are all written documents. The important thing here is to adopt interpretations which are faithful to the original text, which excludes fanciful interpretations such as that of Mr. Newman. At this point, I must point out some excellent commentaries on them, from differing theological stands. Griffith-Thomas offers the classic Reformed interpretation (Boultbee is a good alternative to him), Browne offers a classical High Church interpretation, Bicknell is one of the more popular editions but he was influenced heavily by Newman and I would discourage the use of his work without comparison with other works.
The Articles prohibit unbiblical theology such as works salvation, Purgatory, the Mass as a propitiatory sacrifice, seven sacraments, images, relics, invocation of saints, memorialism, consubstantiation, transubstantiation, Anabaptism, etc. However, they allow flexibility in areas such as soteriology (between Calvinism, Arminianism, Armyraldianism, etc.), eschatology (although classically amil/postmil), exact nature of baptism and Communion, (receptionism vs. dynamic virtualism), the exact nature of the eucharistic sacrifice (commemoration of a sacrifice vs. commemorative sacrifice, etc.), which shows the depth of theological comprehensiveness allowed by Anglicanism. The function of the Articles is to limit that comprehensiveness to an ecumenical and Protestant creedal orthodoxy.
I must be honest in that I do not know much about the Homilies. They were written to provide orthodox sermons for those priests who were not well educated enough to compose their own sermons. They generally elaborate on points made in the Articles. The most famous example is in the Article on Justification which refers to the Homily for further clarification.
The Canons of 1604
Although not a technical formulary in the classical sense, the 1604 Canons are a fascinating read and provide further clarity, generally of a liturgical and ceremonial matter. For instance, they interpret the Ornaments Rubric officially to mean a surplice at the least and a cope at the most as the officially-sanctioned vestments for Anglican priests. They define that every church must have a holy table, font, and be kept decently. They require communion three times a year (very frequent for that time) and much more. I think a thorough re-evaluation of our canons in relation to the 1604 edition should be considered.
I hope I have provided a case for the theological foundation of our Church, grounded upon Holy Scripture and our formularies.