By the Revd Dr Mark Pickles
The Great Divorce
The root of the problem is that too many of us, as evangelical Anglicans, have divorced ecclesiology (our doctrine of the church) from evangelism and discipleship.
Jesus sent out his disciples with the Great Commission to “go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you”91. We can -– and often do -– miss declaring that it is impossible to be a disciple of Jesus Christ and not to be a committed member of a local church. As Article 27 states, “they that receive baptism rightly are grafted into the Church…” The Great Commission is not a call simply to seek lots of new converts, but under the authority and Lordship of Christ, to build his Church. The Great Commission is nothing other than a post resurrection exposition of the promise of Jesus that he will build his Church. (Matthew 16:18). We must not divorce mission from ecclesiology.
Having come to faith in Christ, a new Christian is to be nurtured and discipled within the context of a local church family. If that local church is Anglican, it is vital that part of the discipleship process is teaching, explaining and encouraging a new Christian to understand that. How does this particular
local church express what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ? What does it mean to be a member of this church, what are its theological foundations and guiding principles, how does it express its understanding of biblical truth and how does that shape its corporate life together?
All too often, we can think of those kinds of questions as peripheral and detached from the work of evangelism and discipleship. The problem with that is that it is at best unhelpful, at worst confusing and detrimental to a person’s growth in spiritual maturity because it inevitably communicates that Church is irrelevant or insignificant to a person’s relationship with Christ. Historic Anglicanism is defined by its doctrinal beliefs that shape it and distinguish it from other denominations. The role of the pastor-teacher in a local church, amongst other things, is to teach, explain, persuade and commend those doctrinal distinctives to those in the congregation.
It is no great surprise that if we do not do that, evangelical Anglican churches will sit light to the denomination, respond to denominational error with further withdrawal, and fail to grow members who are enthusiastically evangelical, enthusiastically Anglican and who rejoice that there is no contradiction or tension between the two.
Where Have All the Flowers Articles Gone?
It is extraordinary that although the 39 Articles still form the historic, legal and essential doctrinal basis of faith for the Anglican Church, they are very hard to find in many Anglican churches, including evangelical ones! They are to be found at the back of the Book of Common Prayer; however in many evangelical churches that tends to be used only for the early morning Communion Service on a Sunday. The main morning service and evening service are more likely to make use of Common Worship with the service printed out on service sheets or service cards, or be on PowerPoint slides projected by a data projector -– in all those cases the 39 Articles are nowhere to be seen. It is hard to overstate the significance of this, the long-term detrimental effect it has had, or the astonishing fact that this is not seen as astonishing!
Is it any wonder that we lack theological cohesion, backbone or clarity, if our doctrinal basis has been effectively side-lined or silenced?
Furthermore, because we have come adrift from our heritage, in the numerous conflicts that rage within the Church of England, dispirited evangelicals can find themselves swallowing the deceptive myth that the Church of England is a ‘broad Church’. The assumption that the Church of England is a ‘broad church’ is undoubtedly phenomenologically true; that it ought to be so is a different matter altogether.
It is worth reminding ourselves once again, of Canon A5:
“The doctrine of the Church of England is grounded in the Holy Scriptures, and in such teachings of the ancient Fathers and Councils of the Church as are agreeable to the said Scriptures. In particular, such doctrine is to be found in the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, The Book of Common Prayer and the Ordinal”.
Those who believe and hold fast to the 39 Articles, are not impostors, nor even tolerated guests. Those who believe the doctrine of the Church of England as upheld by Canon Law are thus the rightful and legitimate heirs of Anglican heritage and true, genuine members of that Church. The Church of England is as broad as its Articles – the breadth lies within those doctrinal markers, not outside of them.
Excerpted from Gospel-Driven Anglicanism by the Revd Dr Mark Pickles, pages 107-109, 2017.