Sunday, November 1, 2009

Reformed but not Catholic

Many summaries of the Anglican faith describe it as “both Catholic and Reformed.” Sometimes this middle way has been called via media, until that term got corrupted by a leftwing TEC advocacy group.

However, the Church Society — the leading Evangelical group in the Church of England — not surprisingly prefers Reformed over Catholic. In the summer issue of its newsletter Cross†Way (reprinted by David Virtue), staffer David Meager summarizes the debate held at the group’s annual meeting:
Church Society met in May for its annual Conference at High Leigh. The aim was to determine whether the fundamental nature of the Church of England is 'Catholic' (i.e. unreformed) or 'Reformed'.
On the opening day Roger Beckwith addressed the question of whether the CofE was historically 'Catholic' or 'Reformed.' Roger explained that although Anglo-Catholicism and Liberalism had made inroads in the last 150 years the basis of the CofE was in fact reformed.
Roger then explained that the word 'catholic' meant 'universal' or 'general' and should not be confused with Roman Catholic or Anglo-Catholic, but rather 'catholic' expresses those who hold the common Biblical faith. Since the CofE Formularies acknowledge the ancient creeds (which also contain the word catholic) the CofE can therefore claim to be both catholic (in the true sense of the word) and reformed (unlike the Church of Rome which can be called neither catholic or reformed since it has distorted the catholic doctrine of justification by faith alone.)
This tension between Evangelical and Anglo-Catholic dates back (as the article makes clear) to the 17th century fights of the Puritans both to assert control over the church and the crown, and their periods of vigorous suppression, particularly under Charles I. But of course the tension continued for the next three centuries, over the theology of liturgy (especially the words of institution). Tensions flared anew after the 19th century Anglo-Catholic revival under the Oxford Movement.

The Evangelicals have made common cause in the US with Anglo-Catholics to create ACNA, and share many of the same objections to ECUSA theological innovations. However, before acquiring a common enemy in the revisionists there have been longstanding tensions between the Evangelical and Anglo-Catholic factions both in the US and UK.

What I found troubling about the Cross†Way account (and presumably the Church Society) position was the assumption (or deliberate distortion) that all Protestants are Calvinists — or that differences among Protestants are less significant than those between Protestants, Catholics and Orthodox.

Lutherans are clearly not Calvinists, and (despite some fudges by Philipp Melanchthon) they reject many Calvinist doctrines. I’ve been very blessed to learn from Lutheran Church (Missouri Synod) worship and online websites. Unlike the Anglicans, they actually have a confessional doctrine, contained in the Book of Concord.

Sincere there is no Anglican confession and very ambiguous doctrinal definitions, I find myself most guided by Lutheran doctrine. Like the Anglo-Catholic faith, it places a great weight on Christian tradition, except that the Lutherans reject the most egregious Papal excesses of Luther’s day. (Yes, I know that’s oversimplifying). It is thus possible to see an overlap between Lutheranism and the idea of Anglo-Catholics as “Catholic without the Pope,” much more than I can see common ground between the Anglo-Catholics and the 21st century Calvinists.

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