Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Anglican Myths 4: Calvinism

This will be a shorter post but I wanted to put something out there as I work on more "meatier" myths (pardon the alliteration).

This post seeks to address the myth that Calvinism is somehow antithetical to historic, classical Anglicanism.  First, an issue which I think needs to be addressed before diving into the Calvinism/Arminianism debate.  All of the Reformers (to my knowledge) were firmly in the Augustinian tradition, meaning that they viewed the salvation of man as a divine act caused by his predestination.  I'm not going to go much further than that because I'm not a theologian by trade and I haven't' studied other Reformation traditions sufficiently to comment on the peculiarities of their belief.  This sets the framework for the discussion, to know that the Reformation tradition is (or was, rather) strongly predestinarian.

Here is the portion of the Articles of Religion which deals with the subject of predestination:

XVII. Of Predestination and Election.Predestination to Life is the everlasting purpose of God, whereby (before the foundations of the world were laid) he hath constantly decreed by his counsel secret to us, to deliver from curse and damnation those whom he hath chosen in Christ out of mankind, and to bring them by Christ to everlasting salvation, as vessels made to honour. Wherefore, they which be endued with so excellent a benefit of God, be called according to God's purpose by his Spirit working in due season: they through Grace obey the calling: they be justified freely: they be made sons of God by adoption: they be made like the image of his only-begotten Son Jesus Christ: they walk religiously in good works, and at length, by God's mercy, they attain to everlasting felicity. 
As the godly consideration of Predestination, and our Election in Christ, is full of sweet, pleasant, and unspeakable comfort to godly persons, and such as feel in themselves the working of the Spirit of Christ, mortifying the works of the flesh, and their earthly members, and drawing up their mind to high and heavenly things, as well because it doth greatly establish and confirm their faith of eternal Salvation to be enjoyed through Christ as because it doth fervently kindle their love towards God: So, for curious and carnal persons, lacking the Spirit of Christ, to have continually before their eyes the sentence of God's Predestination, is a most dangerous downfall, whereby the Devil doth thrust them either into desperation, or into wretchlessness of most unclean living, no less perilous than desperation. 
Furthermore, we must receive God's promises in such wise, as they be generally set forth to us in Holy Scripture: and, in our doings, that Will of God is to be followed, which we have expressly declared unto us in the Word of God.

I see here a strong declaration of a predestinarian understanding of God's role in human salvation.  Some have argued that this statement is vague and allows both Arminian and Calvinist positions to be held.  I don't particularly see that in the statement but due to the long Arminian position in the Church of England, I think both positions are acceptable (but please do not debate this -- the issue is whether or not Calvinism is permissible).  The statement is not clear on the issue of single or double predestination in my view.

Having set the stage, so to speak, we must consider the relationship of the Church of England to other Reformed bodies on the Continent, both relationally and theologically.

First, relationally, while I cannot speak to this in great detail, I will comment briefly, perhaps enough to pique your interest.  The Church of England had good relationships with the Continental Reformers, both during and after the Reformation (up until a certain point).  The Continental Reformers also had a great influence on the English Reformation, especially Bucer, who offered his suggestions on how to revise the 1549 Book, which eventually led to the 1552 (and subsequently the 1662).  Peter Martyr was also an influential Reformer who taught in England by invitation from Cranmer.  The English Reformers did not attach the episcopacy to the very essence of the Church and never "unchurched" other Reformed Churches.  Likewise, even the Laudians, who held to a "higher" understanding of the episcopacy, maintained that the Reformed and Lutheran Churches were valid Churches and their sacraments equally valid.  This all to say that the Church of England enjoyed a good and warm relationship with the Reformed Churches of the Continent.

Doctrinally though, they also shared much in common with the Reformed Churches.  First, the Church of England shared all the core, Protestant distinctives, sola fide, sola scriptura, etc.  The Church of England is also predestinarian in its formularies (although there was a divergence at Dordt -- more below).  The Church of England also accepted Reformed, sacramental theology as well.  I have written on this subject throughout this blog in various locations so I will not post on that here.  Doctrinally, the Church of England is a Reformed Church, in fact, it's an established Reformed Church by law in England.  The real difference between the Church of England and the other Reformed Churches has to do with worship and ceremony.  The Church of England adopted the normative approach to Scripture, thus allowing things that were not found in Scripture but which were not contrary to it, such as the surplice, wedding ring, sign of the cross at baptism, kneeling to receive Communion, etc.  The Reformed Churches follow the regulative principle which requires that worship practices be directly mandated by Scripture, hence they tend to reject these things.  It is said that the divide between Puritan and Laudian was ceremony not theology.

I say all of these things not to say that Calvinism is implied by the formularies in the Church -- I think the canons of Dordt go beyond what the Articles require as belief.  The point of this myth is to expose another problem with the core identity of the Anglican Churches.  The notion that the Anglican Churches are not in some sense Reformed (in the "big R" kind of way) is historically false and to deny that reveals a revisionism.  In the latter half of the 19th century, the Protestant nature of the Church was ignored (and I would argue the Catholic nature too -- but I digress) in favor of medieval ceremony and unreformed doctrine.  Coupled with this was historical revisionism, which sought to deny the Protestant nature of the Church.

I hope this sparks interest in your mind to embark on your own journey to read and study our history.


Mr. Mcgranor said...

The Calvinist can be a wishful thinker, building an ideal self.

Anonymous said...

The greatest problem for the C of E is tat whatever the intent of Calvin and Luther - and Buerk et al - the anglican church became an all things to all people once it list it's purpose - to refute and reject papal control of law in 1829 with the removal of the Test Act to allow Daniel O Connell into Parliament even though he was an open agent of the Bishop of Rome. After that point, the idea of a Big Tent - any doctrinal claptrap short if infant sacrifice was "acceptable" z to the point where sodomites and women are "priests" and animals are brought to church for "blessings". Oh - and the church demands the people of Britain commit social, cultural and ethnic suicide in the name of "charidee" by inviting Jihad in the shape of 5 million "immigrants". What a waste for Cranmer and others who died fir the Protestant and Calvinistic nation.