Reinventing the English Reformation

In twenty years’ time, Anglican enthusiasts will mark the bicentennials of three nineteenth-century libraries: the Wycliffe Society Library, the …

Reinventing the English Reformation

In spite of all of the issues that the last century and this one dumped on the Anglican/Episcopal world–WO, the social justice issues, the sexual identity and practice issues, you name it–one that continues to bedevil it like no other is the Evangelical/Anglo-Catholic divide. Even those of us who have tried to take a (somewhat) even-handed approach to this find ourselves in the crosshairs of partisans of one side or the other (in my case, the Evangelical side.)

I think in this case two observations need to be made:

  • The problem of “Evangelical vs. Anglo-Catholic” is to some extent wrapped up in the beginnings of the Church of England itself. It’s probably one of the messiest and least pleasant tales to come out of the Reformation. The English opted to retain the Episcopate (not to the taste of the Calvinists) and the liturgy (not to the taste of the radicals) which led to many conflicts and to some extent the English Civil War itself. Any attempt to claim to be the “sole heir” of this mess requires a great deal of “papering over” and the North American Anglican article on the subject describes some of that.
  • The Anglican/Episcopal world was influenced by those around them, and in some ways imported the divide from outside a strictly Anglican context. The Evangelicals were certainly impressed by the progress the Methodists and Baptists did in getting people saved. (Had they been more receptive to the Wesleyan revival, they might have been the Joneses rather than having to keep up with them!) The Anglo-Catholics were impressed by the continuity and doctrinal clarity (on some issues) that Rome seemingly provided. This turned into a tug of war that has plagued the Anglican/Episcopal world to this day.

If Anglicanism wants to be something else than a way station to somewhere else, it needs to establish its own identity. That may involve altering the Reformation era dialectics (such as the Eucharist) that don’t mean the same thing now as then. This would be a good time to do this, esp. with the current Occupant in Rome. But I’m not holding my breath.

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