ANGLICAN MYTHS: CHURCHMANSHIP?
Perhaps the title is a bit misleading – I am not implying that churchmanship in its entirety is unAnglican, but, rather, that a certain manifestation of it is wholly foreign to the nature of Anglicanism. This aberration of true churchmanship is misleading because it misunderstands and perhaps willingly distorts the nature of the Church of England and her daughter Churches in the Anglican Communion.
Before I begin, I must note that I will not be covering in much detail the modern liberal (often termed revisionist) “party” in mainstream Anglicanism. First, I have doubts about the Christianity of said group and really couldn't comment on how (or if) such a theology could be construed of as Anglican in any sense, much less any successor to the Latitudinarian party. Second, I will not be discussing the “charismatic' movement in Anglicanism. I am not wholly sure of it myself and have done next to no research on it, meaning I have no real knowledge of it, not even enough to briefly summarize its origin or fundamental concepts.
The concept of churchmanship has been misused and misunderstood in increasing years, yet beginning in the latter part of the 19th century, as a way of denying the Protestant and Reformed nature of the Church of England, of course, all in my own opinion. This faulty notion of “churchmanship” (I will use this nomenclature hereafter), is a technique used by some in our Church to assuage the, rather plainly obvious, Protestantism of the formularies and in the writings of our divines, by claiming that there has always been a reformed party in the Church of England, equally as there has always been a “Catholic” party in her. There are two fallacies in this argumentation that I will discuss below. First, this notion of “churchmanship' misunderstands what a church party is, in its proper sense. Second, it misunderstands what Catholicism is, as properly defined.
First, the notion that there was a Reformed party and a Catholic party (note, by this is meant “Romanist” party or unReformed party, not a true Catholic party) in the Church of England is simply ludicrous. The reforms of Henry VIII and especially Edward V and Elizabeth I severed the ties of the English Church to the tyranny of Rome, both in jurisdiction and doctrine. The English Church was regarded by its members and by those in the Continent as a fully Reformed Church, in the Swiss meaning, and in a generally “Calvinist” bent (although, the English Church did not accept the Canons of Dort to their fullest extent, officially adopting Amyraldism, under the influence of Davenant and other English bishops in attendance at said Synod). The Church of England was fully Protestant in that it accepted all of the solas, repudiated the doctrines of Rome, and broadly accepted Reformed Christianity, albeit in a more “suave” way than later Westminster divines. (As in the former post in this series, there was a group in the Church that thought this reform only 'half-done” and wished for furhter reforms along the “regulative principle” or Genevan model). To deny the Protestant and Reformed nature of the Church of England is simply historical revisionism and ludicrous.
[An aside point, historically there were recusants, i.e. Romanists who “conformed” to the national church in Elizabeth's reign. These recusants were regarded as outsiders, meaning that they were secret Papists, who didn't want to pay extra fines or be hanged for attending Mass, so they went to the Established Church, (usually for Mattins and slipping out at Communion) to maintain their heads and pocketbooks.]
Secondly, the notion that Rome has any claim to catholicity is simply false. This is according to simple fact by examining the primitive Church and also in accordance with the plain and unified consensus of our Fathers in the Church of England. The doctrinal accretions of the Middle Ages brought Rome further and further away from the pure truth of the Church Catholic. The Protestant Reformation began in 1517, formally, to protest the accretions of the Middle Ages and to eschew such innovation and return the Church to her Catholic past. It is important to remember that the Reformation beginning in 1517 was only one among many Reformations. The reforming spirit can be seen as early as 1,000 AD, first in advocates for moral reform of the clergy and then, around 1300 AD in doctrinal reform in groups such as the Waldensians, Lollards, and Hussites. The Reformation's only intent was to return the Church to the pure doctrine of Scripture, i.e. Catholicism. The fault of “churchmanship” is in associating unReformed doctrines with Catholicism in such that by adopting these “Catholic” practices, these “churchmen” become unCatholic. In simple terms, to be Catholic is to be Protestant and to be Protestant is to be Catholic. To be Romanist or unReformed is to be in error by ignoring the plain teaching of Scripture.
As you may (or may not) have gathered, the locus of errors in these “Anglican Myths” series rests in attempts to distort the history of the Church of England and her daughter Churches in such manner as to deny or weaken the Protestant and Reformed nature of our Church. For this reason they are myths, they have no basis in reality, only in ignorance.
The real basis of churchmanship is the Protestant and Reformed nature of the Church. This is where real church parties come into play. Starting with the Protestant identity, the historical parties differed (mostly) in emphases. The historical Low Church party, which was originally Latitudinarian, emphasized the similarities with other Protestants, such as the supremacy of Scripture, etc. to forge relationships with them. The historical High Church party emphasized the uniqueness of the Anglican Church among Protestants in her historic liturgy and episcopacy. Another way of looking at is from the Evangelical-High Church vantage point with the the former emphasizing the invisible church and internal conversion. The latter emphasized the visible church and means of grace, etc.
The way I view Anglican history, defining the “classical period” from 1559, with the Elizabethan Act of Uniformity and Supremacy to the 1829 repeal of the Test Acts, thus allowing Dissenters and Romanists to sit in Parliament, thus destroying traditional (English) theories of church and state. The period from 1829 to the present day has seen the gradual fall of classical churchmanship and the increasing polarization of new “church parties”. Another important note that I would like to leave with folks as they read this piece is that in the classical period (as I understand it) church parties were much more flexible than they are now and also there was much more doctrinal consensus than now. For instance, most churchmen would have understood the Eucharist in a high receptionist (i.e. Calvinist) sense (see Waterland's Review for a centrist position), the only way I can think of to accurately describe it is to say that what is now “Low Church Evangelicalism” was rather standard across the board, in most churchmen's minds and in most places, except Scotland, which has a unique history (and really wasn't regarded as “Anglican” by many churchmen, historically speaking). There was increasing polarization just before the Oxford Movement but not in the sense that has developed sense then.