Saturday, January 18, 2014

Anglican Fundamentalism

The title of this post seems a bit outlandish; fundamentalism is certainly not a posh attitude to have, especially in the realm of religion. How can one be fundamentalistic about an Established Church (or church in the "established" tradition, for those churches maintaining the Church of England in her former colonies)? If one examines the origins of the word fundamentalism, he will certainly find that its origins do not necessitate fanaticism. It is really the origin of the word that I am focusing on in this piece, not necessarily its current associations.

The origins of Christian fundamentalism are found in a conservative reaction to liberal theology in the latter part of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th, particularly the publication of a twelve-volume study, The Fundamentals, from 1910 to 1915. I am not going to discuss these in detail for the purpose of this is merely an analogy. However, The Fundamentals promoted the basic Christian teachings such as the virgin birth of Christ, the bodily resurrection and bodily return of Christ to earth at some point in the future, and the doctrine of substitutionary atonement. Moreover, the main assertion of the early fundamentalist movement was the truthfulness of the Bible in asserting the literal interpretation of it in addition to asserting its inerrancy (which we will not debate here). The purpose being that these are (or should be) self-evident truths to Christians, there should not have to be a separate "class" of Christians affirming the Virgin Birth. This is creedal orthodoxy.

The fundamentalists held a simple faith, not a simplistic faith. They believed what the Bible says because it says so. "Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so." This sort of rhetoric. This is the simplicity of fundamentalism, however, this does not mean the movement is anti-intellectual in origins (this is not a commentary on the present manifestations of the same but its historical advent). The contents of The Fundamentals are rather intellectual in tone and should be taken seriously. However, the simplicity of it all is the virtue I wish to explore.

Herein lies the first comparison I wish to make. The fundamentalists in simple faith acknowledge the things contained in the Bible to be true because they trust that it is God's Word. This fact alone makes it a trustworthy thing. Anglicans, particularly those of a High Church persuasion (in the original meaning of that word), believe all of the Formularies to faithfully expound the teaching of Holy Scripture, in other words, they find it "agreeable to God's Word" and contain "a godly and wholesome doctrine," meaning that all that is contained therein is faithful to Scripture and not only worthy of our acceptance but necessary. This implies that all of the Scriptural truths contained in the Formularies should be upheld, such as the doctrine of justification by faith alone, that Scripture is the only infallible rule of faith, that God predestined some to life, the two Sacraments of the Gospel, given for our benefit, and also the rejection of certain errors, such as, the doctrine of purgatory, the invocation of saints, and the prayer for the dead, the Sacrifice of the Mass, and other such errors. 

The other comparison I would like to make is that of the zealous nature of the fundamentalist movement. This results from the former conviction that the Bible is God's Word and contains all truth. If this is true, then one must be diligent in spreading its message. This principle should be carried over to the Anglican context. If someone is convinced that the Formularies contain and faithfully expound the teaching of Scripture, including the Gospel of grace, how can they not stand firm in that conviction? This is the real nature of the issue is that there needs to exist a passion for the Anglican tradition, not at the expense of our Protestant brethren (and "sistren") but at the expense of Romanism and Modernism, the enemies of the true Gospel. 

The main point I wish to convey is that if we are to believe that Anglicanism is biblical, then we must believe all of it is so and be passionate about its contents. This includes an embrace of the things which our Formularies teach and a rejection of the things they reject.


Anonymous said...

Fundamentalist Anglicanism: a non-stop jumble sale on every street; every morning is a coffee morning

Anonymous said...

"...if we are to believe that Anglicanism is biblical, then we must believe all of it is so and be passionate about its contents. This includes an embrace of the things which our Formularies teach and a rejection of the things they reject."

There are a number of things un-biblical in Anglicanism, as in any church, for the simple reason that the Bible doesn't outline most of the things that the Church, across the ages, has used wisdom to figure out. Any number of things such as church polity, how to conduct a baptism service, how to translate the Bible into different cultural contexts, how to think theologically about the arts, how to be a citizen and a Christian under forms of government that didn't exist in the ancient world. Heaps more could be mentioned. A bit of a stretch toward perfectionism if you ask me. And one man's perfectionism is another man's annoyance.