Results tagged “Anglicanism” from Reformation21 Blog

John Owen was an Anglican

Having previously proved without any shadow of a doubt that the great John Owen was not a Baptist, no, definitely not a Baptist, and certainly not a Presbyterian, it is important that we now go one step further. In this year when we celebrate his 400th birthday, it is important that we recognise the fact that John Owen was an Anglican.

I'm sure I've said this before at the Westminster Conference. But I was just saying it again in more detail on Monday, at the launch of the new John Owen Society in Oxford, which is dedicated to recovering Reformed theology for the 21st Century. The whole talk is online if you want to listen in, but on this particular subject, I said something like this:
The Reverend John Owen was, let it be remembered, an ordained Anglican minister. He served for several years as the vicar (in succession) of two parish churches in Essex, before becoming the Dean of the Cathedral Church of Christ in Oxford.
He may (like his father) have called himself a Puritan, and not been a fan of some aspects of the Church's governance and ceremonies. But doctrinally he was entirely in accord with the confessional basis of Anglicanism. As he says of the Thirty-nine Articles, "what is purely doctrinal we fully embrace and constantly adhere unto" (Works, 13:551).

Even when he had been ejected from the national church by the iniquitous Act of Uniformity in 1662, he was happy to say, "I embrace the doctrine of the church of England, as declared in the Thirty-nine Articles, and other approved public writings of the most famous bishops and other divines thereof" (Works, 14:196). That is tighter than the current form of subscription required of ministers in the Church of England!

Indeed, he wrote in 1669, "the chief glory of the English Reformation consisted in the purity of its doctrine, then first restored to the nation. This, as it is expressed in the articles of religion, and in the publicly-authorized writings of the bishops and chief divines of the church of England, is, as was said, the glory of the English Reformation" (Works, 13:354).

What was this Anglican confessional doctrine to which Owen adhered? He affirmed that on the subject of justification by faith and the imputation of the righteousness of Christ, for example, that he was entirely on the side of the Church of England's authentic writings, "-- that is, the articles of religion, and books of homilies, and other writings publicly authorized." In his book on justification, which expounds and defends the comfortable doctrine of justification by faith alone, he added, "I shall not in the least depart from the ancient doctrine of the church of England; yea, I have no design but to declare and vindicate it, as God shall enable" (Works, 5:164).

He wouldn't, of course, have approved of what is now known as Anglo-Catholicism. He was implacably opposed to Antichrist and his religion, believing the Church of Rome to have committed heresy, schism, apostasy, and idolatry (Works, 14:29-30). And as for high church stage props and sumptuous outward aesthetic: "In worship, their paintings, crossings, crucifixes, bowings, cringings, altars, tapers, wafers, organs, anthems, litany, rails, images, copes, vestments,--what were they but Roman varnish, an Italian dress for our devotion, to draw on conformity with that enemy of the Lord Jesus?" (Works, 8:28).

In terms of church polity, Owen initially flirted with Presbyterianism before becoming more persuaded by the Congregational way. He didn't like episcopacy as a system. Yet -- perhaps surprisingly for many -- along with other such Independents during the 17th century, Owen did not believe in the separation of church and state, as many hold to that modern American tenet today.

Owen thought, for example, that the State had a duty to stop anti-Trinitarians infiltrating the church, and to silence those who rejected justification by faith alone. The magistrates could enforce that, in his view; indeed it was against the light and law of nature, he said, for supreme magistrates not to exert their authority to support, preserve, and further the cause of the gospel and forbid, coerce, and restrain false teaching (e.g. Works, 13:509-510). The great John Milton wrote some nasty things about him because of this, in that poem where Cromwell is called "our chief of men."

Owen had little time, however, for those who remained Anglican in form but not in doctrine. There were some in the seventeenth century who attacked nonconformists (who were perfectly sound on basic Protestant doctrines), but who left all manner of heretics alone merely because they obeyed the outward rules. This was scandalous to Owen (see Works, 13:354-355), and should be to all right-thinking people.

In his first published book in 1642 he gave some instances of people "opposing the received doctrine of the church of England, contained in divers of the Thirty-nine Articles." We are living in iniquitous times, he said, because "Had a poor Puritan offended against half so many canons as they opposed articles, he had forfeited his livelihood, if not endangered his life." It was acceptable to many to oppose the doctrine of the Articles of Religion but not to break the outward minutiae of canon law; indeed, even many senior church leaders "were so zealous for the discipline and so negligent of the doctrine of the church" (Works, 10:9).

Owen considered this an outrage, because he was deeply attached to the Protestant  Reformed doctrine of the Church of England. As an ordained Anglican minister, we should of course expect no less.

"We own ourselves to have been, and to be, children of the church of England," he said (Works, 13:184). Until 1662, he would have been a fully signed up member of Church Society. And you can't get more proper Anglican than that.

Lee Gatiss is the Director of Church Society (, which seeks to shape the Church of England for the future by building on its Reformed foundations

Reprobate Anglicans

Continuing to ponder the idea that God appointed some to everlasting life and others to a different fate. Is this really a genuinely Anglican idea, as my previous posts about the dark side of predestination and the way not to apply reprobation have asserted?

The first commentary on the Thirty-nine Articles by Thomas Rogers seems to indicate so. In The English Creed (1585), page 60, he writes (with Yoda-like grammar), "Err therefore doe they which stand in opinion that some are appointed to be saved, yet none to be damned." His later A Treatise upon sundry matters contained in the Thirty-nine Articles (1658), page 65, adds a condemnation of those who say "no certain company be foredestined unto eternal condemnation."

He was not alone in holding this view of course. In reply to an attack by a Portuguese Roman Catholic named Osorious on the English creed (i.e. the Articles), the famous John Fox and a certain Mr Haddon, wrote this:
For whereas that most sacred purpose of the divine predestination and reprobation doth issue and spring from out the only will of God, being indeed most unsearchable, yet most righteous; and whereas, also, men are first fashioned in the same will, as in God's workshop, to be either vessels of wrath, or vessels of mercy, before that any lenity or mercy do appear to be extended towards any of them from God; by what means then will Osorius affirm that the defence of justice consisteth wholly in mercy, and that there be no vessels of wrath, but such as will not be vessels of mercy? I do answer that this is true that no man perisheth at all, but whoso perisheth by his own procurement and default," nevertheless, "as he is a judge he doth punish sinners indeed; but as he is a creator he doth fashion his creatures according to his will, even as the potter doth fashion his pots."  Haddon & Fox Against Osorius. (originally, 1563). (See Thomas R. Jones, An Exposition of the Thirty-nine Articles by the Reformers (1849), page 105.)
Haddon and Fox oppose the view that there are only "vessels of mercy" and those who themselves decide not to be. They oppose that by saying that predestination and reprobation can both be traced back to God's will. God's will, not their own, makes people vessels of mercy or vessels of wrath. It is true, they affirm, that all who perish do so because of their sin, in a sense. But in an ultimate sense, God fashions things as he wills.

There was a dispute in Cambridge about these issues in the 1590s. There were virulent sermons against Calvin, Beza, Vermigli, and Zanchius, and especially their doctrines of election. In response, the co-called Lambeth Articles were drawn up by the Regius Professor of Divinity at Cambridge and endorsed by both archbishops, and others, in 1595. They clarified that Anglican doctrine was Reformed and, more specifically, that, "1. God from eternity has predestined some men to life, and reprobated some to death." Note the subject of that sentence. They added that, "4. Those not predestined to salvation are inevitably condemned on account of their sins." God predestines and reprobates, the latter on account of sin, the former on account of grace alone.

The Anglican worthies who were sent by King James I to attend the Synod of Dort in 1618 were far from severe or hyper-calvinists, as my previous interlocutor Dr Jensen will no doubt admit (their minority opinion on the matter of "limited atonement" being of particular interest to some of our mutual friends in Sydney). They did however pronounce it an erroneous opinion that predestination to life was "the whole and entire decree of predestination." The fact that some are severed from others by the decree is a key part of it according to scripture, they said.

On reprobation, the British divines at Dort -- who clearly were unafraid to disagree with a majority view, if they felt scripture or their confession called them to -- declared that "non-election, we avow to be grounded upon the most free will of God." They cite Romans 9 and John 10:26 ("you do not believe because you are not my sheep"). All lie in sin and are equally undeserving. God decides to save some, and decides not to save others. They are damned and predestinated to damnation in consideration of their sin. Reprobation is the negation of election and sets down "the immutable will of God, by which he hath decreed not to take pity of that person, whom he passeth by, so farre forth as to bestow upon him eternall life." As they conclude, "The Apostle fetcheth this preterition, or non-election, from the mere will of God." (See Anthony Milton (ed.), The British Delegation and the Synod of Dort, pages 230, 238-239, 241, 242-243.)

So nothing that I have affirmed about "the sentence of God's predestination" against the reprobate is un-Anglican. It is embedded in the first generations of Reformation Anglican writing on the subject, as well as being part of an international Reformed consensus at that formative time.

I know there are subtle distinctions at play in the way some people talk about this subject. And perhaps I am too much of a dullard and a historian to really understand the philosophical elegancies of systematics. But as the great Anglican scholar J.B. Mozley puts it in his Treatise on the Augustinian doctrine of Predestination (1883), page 392, "There is no real distinction between abandoning men to a certain state, of which punishment will be the consequence, and ordaining them to that punishment."

As he goes on, on the next page, "I see no substantial difference between the Augustinian and Thomist, and the Calvinist doctrine of predestination. S. Augustine and Calvin alike hold an eternal Divine decree, which, antecedently to all action, separates one portion of mankind from another, and ordains one to everlasting life and the other to everlasting punishment."

I confess that I find that intellectually satisfying and historically compelling, as well as most in accordance with scripture as I currently understand it. I also think it is authentically Anglican and thoroughly evangelical, and while I fully understand some may not like it and want to disagree, I can't see that it should be dismissed with irrelevant epithets such as "overly neat" or "unfeelingly dogmatic."

Lee Gatiss is Director of Church Society, adjunct lecturer at Wales Evangelical School of Theology, and Research Fellow of the Jonathan Edwards Centre Africa at the University of the Free State, South Africa

Well, OK, but just this once ...

Today is almost certain to see the appointment of the first Anglican woman bishop in the UK. Stockport in Manchester look to be the unlucky winners. It has been declared: "The time is right." A break with tradition, we are told, but the only reasonable thing to do. The Archbish has said in that typically flaccid way of the hierarchy that it is "a new way of being the church." As is typical of such movements, this is the little drip before the great flood, a fairly low key appointment, testing the waters, getting people used to the idea, and so on.

I am sure that there are many grieved Anglicans at this further demonstration of the abandonment of biblical Christianity within the Anglican communion. I think it is fairly well attested that - despite my appreciation for many Anglicans - I am no friend of Anglicanism as a system. I am always fascinated by conversations in which sincere, believing Anglicans assure me that their commitment to the church has nothing to do with principle, they just don't see certain issues as being matters of principle (I am not saying all feel this way, but I have heard it several times).

But my concern is, more generally, how very practiced evangelical Christians seem to be at backing down. I imagine we believe that it is gracious. Do not resist the evil person, turn the other cheek, give your cloak to him who wants your tunic (not as catchy, I admit), go the extra mile, give to him who asks, surrender every point of principle ... oh, hang on!

I do think Anglicanism may be a case in point, though I am not suggesting that this is by any means restricted to them. Many seem irremovably attached to Anglicanism's peculiar structures and practices; they are wedded to the institution, regardless of its form and substance. Others have their own such commitments. And so a stream of excuses is made to remain within the organisation or denomination regardless of its drift. The line in the sand is drawn, a respectable "Harrumph!" is issued as yet another matter of conviction is swept away, and another line in the sand is drawn, with the assurance, "But this time we mean it!" Meanwhile the encroachments on scriptural truth and practice continue year on year, until the religious landscape is utterly altered. And meanwhile, the evangelicals sit there saying, "Well, OK, but just this once ..."

Surely we need to ask ourselves, and one another, "At what point do we actually say, 'Enough is enough?'" What will make vigorous, penetrating calls to repentance replace tame capitulations? When does that line get crossed that makes us say, in effect, "I must come out from among them, and be clean"? It is easy to swing with the rhetorical hammer from outside, but all of us - whatever our ecclesiology - face many such moments in the life of the church. They are rarely easy moments, but they are crucial moments. They may seem very minor (e.g. the tacit acknowledgement that gathering with the saints on the Lord's day actually isn't that big a deal when it comes to being a member) or greatly significant (e.g. overlooking a matter of public and even scandalous sin, with the corresponding failure to discipline) and far-reaching (e.g. altering the whole constitution of the ministry that God has appointed for his church). How bad do things need to be before we realise just how far down a godless road we have travelled? At what point do we recover that zeal for the house of God that refuses to allow men to trample any longer upon the church of Christ?

Whatever our affiliations or commitments, denominationally or relationally, there must come a point at which we say, "Enough is enough." That point ought to be whenever and wherever the Word of God is evidently breached or abandoned. The way forward at that point may not be immediately clear and may be profoundly costly. But surely that is the point at which it must be acknowledged, a way forward - we might almost say, a way back - must be found and followed.

On The Nativity

Editor's note: we welcome the newest member of our blog team, Mr. Digby St. John-Crimond. After years of civil service in the diplomatic corps, he has taken an early retirement, to enjoy not only serving the Anglican Church, but also long distance swimming and the music of Tchaikovsky.

For my first blog on Ref21, I thought I would play it safe but also strike a blow for good old-fashioned classic Anglicanism.   Therefore, given that we are entering once again upon the festive season when we remember our Lord's birth, I print below a beautiful passage from `On the Nativity' which is part of the Second Book of Homilies.  It is a concise and elegant reminder of the glorious mystery of God's grace in Christ and represents Anglicanism at its best: clearly shaped by patristic theology, deeply biblical and pointed towards a response of praise and thanksgiving.


These were the chief ends wherefore Christ became man, not for any profit that should come to himself thereby, but only for our sakes, that we might understand the will of GOD, be partakers of his heavenly light, be delivered out of the devil's claws: released from the burden of sin, justified through faith in his blood, and finally, received up into everlasting glory, there to reign with him for ever. Was not this a great and singular love of Christ towards mankind, that being the express and lively image of GOD, he would notwithstanding humble himself, and take upon him the form of a servant, and that only to save and redeem us? O how much are wee bound to the goodness of GOD in this behalf? how many thanks and praises do we owe unto him for this our salvation wrought by his dear and only Son Christ? who became a pilgrim in earth to make us citizens in heaven, who became the son of man, to make us the sons of GOD, who became obedient to the Law, to deliver us from the curse of the Law, who became poor, to make us rich; vile, to make us precious; subject to death, to make us live for ever. What greater love could we silly creatures desire or wish to have at GODS hands?