Breaking the Via Media of a Church without Protestant Subtractions or Roman Additions. The Errors of Extremes on Either Side
Men like John Wesley responded to the perceived stagnation in the spirituality of the Church of England in the 18th century by relentlessly preaching the Gospel of salvation by the sacrificial death of Christ. Many Anglicans, however, were wary of allowing such enthusiasm to take root in the Established Church. Likewise, many Methodists had little interest in becoming members of the “Established” Church and placed the emphasis on personal salvation to the exclusion of the importance of worship through the use of the Prayer Book (Moorman 1980). Neither John nor Charles Wesley could be accused of such an attitude, however, and intended that the theology of the Church of England be preserved (Moorman 1980, 200), even though John Wesley’s own theological system is, at best, uneven and difficult to comprehend and based too much on his own subjective experiences. Charles Simeon was perhaps one of the best examples of Anglican Evangelicalism: He remained a Churchman, keeping many of his flock from “defecting” to the Methodists. He refused to state a position on the question of Calvinism vs Arminianism (more or less, the debate concerning the predestination to heaven or hell versus man’s ability to respond to God’s freely offered grace). He held both extremes to be true, for both were supported by Scripture. “Be Bible-Christians, not system Christians,” he told those who consulted him about the matter (Moorman 1983, 149).
On the other hand, since the Bible was the central text for the Evangelicals --as it is for all Christians--it was often used as a stand alone text (Solo Scriptura rather than Sola Scriptura), expounded upon by ministers “as they saw fit” (Moorman 1983, 148), rather than in reference to the traditional and orthodox teachings of the Church. The relation of the Christian to the Church the individual belonged to, the Church’s relationship to the past, as well as where Anglican teaching came from seemed to be of little interest to most clergy and laity in the Evangelical movement. In later times the Evangelicals would—and still do—use the best of Anglican Reformed theology, but often the appeal to the Reformation teachings is to denounce “Catholic” elements within Anglicanism (see Zahl 1998). As Moorman (1983, 146) states: “The religion they sought was an individual affair. It had little conception of the Church of the Body of Christ, the spiritual home of all that put their trust in Him.” However, the central emphasis on the Atonement and the work of Christ, the significance of His life for believers was needed in England, and it led to great missionary zeal and many social reforms. The positive significance of Evangelicalism for Anglicanism was (is) in its emphasis upon the centrality of personal salvation and Christ’s work on behalf of the believer by His sacrifice and the free gift of grace by faith. Its negative aspects were often a lack of a coherent teaching of what the Church was (or is), the nature of the ministry, and the nature of the Sacraments.
The Oxford Movement began as a reaction against the lack of a clear teaching that the Church of England was the Catholic Church in England. The Preface in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, composed by Bishop Sanderson at the Restoration, explicitly states this fact by referring to the Church of England as part of the “Catholick Church of Christ” (vi). By allowing dissenters their own chapels and churches, and by allowing Roman Catholics religious rights within England, many felt that the Church of England was forfeiting her right to be "the Church" in England. A clear teaching of Bishops Jewel, Andrewes, Laud, and the other Anglican Reformers had, by and large, been lost from the preaching the established Church. Many High Churchmen in England, Scotland, and America knew the orthodox and historic teaching of the Church of England about the Church Catholic, such as we see in the writings of Samuel Seabury, but in the parish churches it was often unknown. As stated by Vicar Thomas Sikes in 1833 (quoted and Moorman 1983, 152): “There is no account given anywhere. . .of the One Holy Catholic Church. . . Those who have to explain it will hardly know where they are, or which way to turn themselves. . .There will be one great cry of Popery. . .” Indeed, even with the moderate early teachings of Pusey and Keble, most of which only sought to “reintroduce” teachings about doctrine and worship—specifically on the Lord’s Supper and the teachings of the ancient Church—that were explicit in the Prayer Book and the teachings of the Anglican divines, cries of “no Popery!” went up. There was no desire to change the manner of worship in the first phase of the Oxford Movement, only to draw attention to the true nature of the primitive Catholic teachings concerning episcopacy, worship, and the Eucharist. However, later Tractarians ritualists infuriated both Evangelicals and “classic” High Churchmen by introducing practices expressly forbidden since the Anglican Reformation: Using the Latin Missal—in Latin—instead of the Prayer Book, elevating the Host per the rubrics of the Tridentine Missal, multiple genuflections, having processions of the Sacrament encased in a monstrance, introducing obligatory private confession, non-communicating “high masses” (where the Host was to be adored) with "low masses" at which the faithful were to make their communion, and often adopting theologies indistinguishable from Tridentine Roman Catholicism in order to justify the practices. A major and continuing mistake of various Anglo-Catholics is to equate “Romanism” with “Catholicism” and to look to the theology of the Roman Church to define the limits of orthodoxy. The tension between some Evangelical and some Anglo-Catholic elements in Anglicanism remains to this day, largely because neither wishes to acknowledge their own errors and desires to make Anglicanism something it was never intended to be, on the one hand, Presbyterianism with a Prayer Book, on the other, a pale imitation of 19th century Romanism without the Papacy. This standard of allowing "puritan" as well as "Roman" elements into the life-blood of Anglicanism--without correcting the errors of each via the teaching of the ancient Church--arguably led to various other forms of "dissent" (with less orthodox intentions) to gain a foothold in the Church of England and her daughter churches.
The weak elements in both Evangelicalism and Anglo-Catholicism stem either from a poor knowledge of the distinctive elements of the Anglican Reformation or a willful ignorance of these elements. Often, the more stringent Evangelicals ignore the theology set forth in the works of Cranmer, Jewel, and Hooker and focus on the more polemic aspects of the continental Reformers, perhaps hoping that the Puritan “reformation” of Anglicanism will finally take place. They fail to see the continuity of the Articles and the Homilies with the faith of the ancient Catholic Church—or that such a continuity was intended. This has always been a negative aspect of Evangelicalism within Anglicanism.
The weaknesses of extreme Anglo-Catholicism stem from the same, perhaps willful, ignorance. Rather than seeing the Prayer Book, the Articles and Homilies, as well as the Elizabethan canons, as espousing a primitive Catholicism stripped of late-medieval additions, many Anglo-Catholics see only the machinations of black-hearted protestants intent on destroying the “true Catholic teachings” of the Mass, priestly sacrifice in the Roman sense, belief in purgatory, etc (practices the Anglicans reformers and Caroline Divines demonstrated were not “Catholic” in that they were not part of the teaching of the ancient Church). In taking such a stand the Anglo-Catholics often imitate, in both worship and teaching, the Victorian Roman Catholicism prevalent during the later ritualistic phases of the Oxford Movement (Dearmer 1932). In behaving as such they usually claim that they are being “truly Catholic,” while in reality they are only imitating some very modern Roman practices. This is one of the negative outgrowths of the Oxford Movement. During the 19th century, many Anglicans, Evangelical Churchmen and High Churchmen both, as a means of defense against many of the inaccurate teachings of the later Anglo-Catholics, began to rediscover the works of Cranmer, Jewel, Hooker, the Caroline Divines, as well as the moderate doctrinal soundness of the 39 Articles (Browne 1887).