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Gospel-Driven Anglicanism

The Great Divorce Part 2

By the Revd Dr Mark Pickles

Last week, Dr Pickles started to make the case that Anglican evangelicals have divorced doctrine from ecclesiology.  We pick up where he left off.

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. 

Implications: 

  • We must resist the seductive pressure of a false tolerance. The 39 Articles shape and define the theological and doctrinal position of the Church of England; those who hold to them do not need to be ‘broadened’.
  • If the theology that drives the ministry and mission of a local Anglican Church is not self- consciously rooted in the 39 Articles, it is hard to deny the allegation that any particular doctrinal position or ministry emphasis is simply down to the whim of a particular incumbent.
  • It is inadequate to argue in response to this “incumbent- determined doctrine and ministry” allegation that this is what the Bible teaches because that fails to explain why this particular local church is Anglican rather than Baptist, Presbyterian, Independent Evangelical or Methodist etc. A commitment to the authority of Scripture is not the sole prerogative of Anglicanism. A commitment to Biblical authority can clearly lead to a variety of interpretations and understandings of the sacraments, ecclesiology and polity.
  • It is particularly helpful in a revitalisation context. If you have attended a local church for years, it is understandable that you might struggle if an evangelical is appointed who appears to be preaching a different message to what you have been used to, explaining and applying the Bible in a way that you have never heard before. This can be especially difficult if the new evangelical incumbent implicitly, if not explicitly, undermines or even contradicts the message that you have been taught for many years. To be able to explain and demonstrate that what is now being taught is in fact nothing other than true, authentic, historic Anglicanism as found in the Prayer Book and the 39 Articles can be immensely reassuring for confused congregation members. It is all there – justification by faith alone, the substitutionary atonement of Christ, the supreme authority of Scripture, original sin, predestination and a biblical understanding of the sacraments. We unnecessarily shoot ourselves in the foot if we ignore this heritage and fail to demonstrate that historic Anglicanism holds fast to the biblical gospel and that an evangelical ministry is truly and authentically Anglican.
  • If we ignore our doctrinal basis, we fail to disciple people adequately and effectively. We will simply focus on a handful of essentials and never properly teach them about things such as the Church, the sacraments, liturgy and public worship, and some of the particular doctrinal distinctives of Anglicanism

• If as incumbents we believe that historic Anglicanism is a thoroughly biblical expression of what the Church of Jesus Christ ought to be like, then why would we not want to teach new converts the theological contours of Anglicanism? If we do not believe that then why are we Anglicans? 

Suggestions: 

  • Every local evangelical Anglican church should have numerous copies of the 39 Articles, visible and readily available. 
  • They should be in modern English. 
  • Those in leadership, staff teams and PCC should know and understand the 39 Articles and be committed to them. 
  • A new members class ought to include summary explanations of the Articles, emphasising
    and commending those of particular importance. This is nothing less than what most evangelical independent churches or confessional Presbyterian churches would automatically assume to do. A friend of mine, who is a Presbyterian minister, in his new members’ class will explain the church’s doctrinal position and give a brief introduction to Presbyterianism. This is all too rare in local Anglican churches and we reap what we sow. 
  • There ought to be periodic mid-week courses that teach the 39 Articles to help congregation members become more familiar with them. Mid-week courses allow for more time, discussion and interaction than within Sunday services. 
  • It ought to be second nature and instinctive in preaching and teaching to allude to or refer to Anglican doctrine. 

Excerpted from Gospel-Driven Anglicanism, by Dr Mark Pickles, pages 109 – 110, 2017.

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