Does Canadian Anglicanism have more to do with Anabaptism?

Maybe quite a few of you my readers, especially those who are not Anglicans, did not read through my rather long essay on the Church of England, despite my attempt to give it a catchy title. Perhaps rather more of you are interested in my various posts on Anabaptism. For your benefit, here is a summary of one of main points of my essay:

According to Rev John Richardson, who takes this idea Bishop Stephen Neill, there is no distinctively Anglican theology, and the only thing which distinguishes Anglican churches from others is their claim to be the catholic or universal church in certain countries, mostly those of the former British Empire. This claim can be traced back to Henry VIII’s presumption in setting himself up as the head of the Church of England. This is thus the very epitome of Christendom, the church being identified with the state. So I wondered how Tim Chesterton could claim that Anabaptism, which stresses the separation of church and state, could have anything to do with Anglicanism, especially in this area.

Tim responded in a comment that his idea of Anglicanism, from a Canadian perspective but also informed by his recent time in England, is fundamentally different from John’s very English viewpoint. For him, the Anglican church in Canada, and indeed anywhere apart from England, is a place for people who are “looking for something more sacramental without the hardline dogmatism of Rome, or something a bit less conservative than the evangelical churches.” So perhaps it is only in England where people are trying to be more reformed than Calvin or more catholic than the Pope while still calling themselves Anglican. This viewpoint is interesting, although I’m not sure it takes into account the position of the Global South group. But it is helpful for understanding the difficulties facing the Anglican Communion.

Meanwhile I am still waiting for the ninth part of Tim’s series ‘What does Anabaptism have to do with Anglicanism?’, in which he has promised in advance to outline “the church as a distinct community from the world” as an area of convergence between Anabaptism and Anglicanism. Perhaps the delay is because he is rethinking his position because of my comments – or perhaps just because he has been taking a weekend break.

0 thoughts on “Does Canadian Anglicanism have more to do with Anabaptism?

  1. Pingback: Speaker of Truth » More Catholic than the Pope, More Reformed than Calvin

  2. Sheer weight of work means it is difficult for me to respond to these posts with the full attention they deserve. However, I notice other people coming to my blog from here, so I presume they are reading them, and I think it is necessarry to add just a couple of caveats.

    I think Peter is in danger of extrapolating my thoughts on the Church of England to positions I would not myself adopt. My intention in my original essay was to try to arrive at an accurate account of the Church of England, not a total endorsement. It is necessary to understand how we got where we are in order to understand where we might go, but it is not necessary to conclude that we are entirely on the right road.

    So, for example, we should see how the ‘Church of England’ – whose self-understanding was that it represented the Catholic Church in England – came to have branches everywhere from Alaska to Australia, but it is not necessary to believe, nor am I arguing, that this ought to be regarded as the Catholic church in all those countries – not least because sometimes someone else had got their first.

    On the other hand, I believe it is important to see that the Church of England is supposed to be nothing more nor less than the Church IN England in order to realise that we cannot privilege certain beliefs or practices by saying they are ‘Anglican’.

    Thus, for example, we cannot justify the so-called ‘historicate episcopate’ as being an ‘Anglican’ doctrine. If it is a ‘catholic’ truth, it should be adopted by all Christians (in which case those who have not adopted it are in error). If it is an error, it should be abandoned. If it is neither of these, then it falls into the category of a tradition laid down by human authority, and therefore though it may command our respect, it cannot compel our faith.

    What I am keen to avoid is that kind of ecclesiological fundamentalism which says, “If you don’t accept such-and-such about Anglicanism you must find another church.” The notion of the Church of England being what is says on the tin means it ought to have a flexibility to embrace quite a wide range of doctrines, even though certain of these may be ‘privileged’.

    So, for example, that flexiblity would not allow the Roman doctrine of justification to supplant the Protestant. Why not? Because we believe in error, and the Church of England has declared that the Church of Rome has erred. We may eventually decide to reject that view, but we cannot ignore it.

    Similarly, we may regard infant baptism as the best approach and ‘believers only’ baptism as second best, because that is the conclusion the Church has previously reached. But that doesn’t close off all discussion or mean that we require the children of congregation members to be baptised.

    The other thing I would mention is that, once again, it is important to understand historically and theologically the rationale behind the notion of Royal Supremacy. Cranmer was quite clear that this was, in his view, entirely biblical. At his trial, he acknowledged that in the Apostles’ time, Nero was the head of the church (the proof being that he had the Apostles executed). In Henry’s day, the view taken was that, England being an Empire, the monarch had always properly been the ‘head’ of the church.

    It must be remembered, however, that the alternative was not Christ but the Pope. Therefore if we dismiss Henry’s reasoning as self-serving we must realise that the default position is papal supremacy. If we are not to accept that, we must find an alternative argument than the one supplied by Cranmer.

    I’m conscious these are not full responses to what Peter has written, and apologise again for the lack of time.

  3. Thank you, John, for giving your valuable time to respond here. I hope you are happy that I have generated more traffic for your blogs, even if most of it is from outside our diocese.

    Your position that the Anglican church is the catholic church in some countries but not in others seems strangely inconsistent to me, although it ties up with Tim’s observations about the self-understanding of Anglicans in various countries.

    I don’t think I have suggested anything like “If you don’t accept such-and-such about Anglicanism you must find another church.” What I have suggested is that if you are not prepared to work within the structures of the Church of England, but instead publicly oppose them, you should find another church. That is because you have stepped outside the catholic church in your country. Of course the consistent answer in the original Church of England model, as practised in the reign of Elizabeth I, would have been to burn you to death as those Anabaptists were burned. I won’t propose that!

    If the Church of England “ought to have a flexibility to embrace quite a wide range of doctrines”, why does that not include the Bishop of Chelmsford’s views on homosexuality? Of course up to now the C of E has taken a different position, and you and I want to maintain that position, but “that doesn’t close off all discussion”, does it? My position is that the bishop should be allowed to say what he likes on such matters, as long as he abides by the church’s rules in what he actually does.

    I don’t know the details of Cranmer’s position on royal supremacy, but I can only see deliberate irony in calling Nero the head of the church while under trial under Bloody Mary. Of course by developing this doctrine he gave Henry VIII the excuse he wanted to break from Rome. Maybe he even came to believe it. But there were other models he could have looked at: the Orthodox model with the church headed by its bishops and a college of patriarchs; the Anabaptist one of no human headship; or he could have put himself forward as the head of the Church of England by virtue of being its Archbishop. Instead he chose to ascribe headship to his king. Conviction, or political astuteness? I wonder.

    By the way, I should apologise for inconsistency in referring to Rev John Richardson, but not giving the same title to Tim Chesterton, or to that matter to Doug Chaplin, Dave Warnock and various other reverends I refer to on this blog, including some about whom I may be ignorant of their correct titles. I did this partly because John idenitifies himself as “Revd” on his own blog. But he chooses not to in his comments here, so for consistency I will drop this title for him too. I’m afraid I know too many reverends too well to consider that they are worthy of special respect just because of their titles – although those I name here are all worthy of respect for their views expressed on their blogs etc.

  4. Just to observe, there was no irony in Cranmer’s comments about Nero as can be seen from the transcript of his questioning by Dr Thomas Martin:

    Martin:- Now, sir … you denied that the pope’s holiness was supreme head of the church of Christ.

    Cranmer:- I did so.

    Martin:- Who say you then is supreme head?

    Cranmer:- Nobody.

    Martin:- Ah! why told you not king Henry this, when you made him supreme head? and now nobody is. This is treason against his own person, as you then made him.

    Cranmer:- I mean not but every king in his own realm and dominion is supreme head, and so was he supreme head of the church of Christ in England.

    Martin:- Is this always true? and was it ever so in Christ’s church?

    Cranmer:- It was so.

    Martin:- Then what say you by Nero? He was the mightiest prince of the earth, after Christ was ascended. Was he head of Christ’s church?

    Cranmer:- Nero was Peter’s head.

    Martin:- I ask, whether Nero was head of the church, or no? If he were not, it is false that you said before, that all princes be, and ever were, heads of the church within their realms.

    Cranmer:- Nay, it is true, for Nero was the head of the church, that is, in worldly respect of the temporal bodies of men, of whom the church consisteth; for so he beheaded Peter and the apostles. And the Turk too is head of the church of Turkey.

    Martin:- Then he that beheaded the heads of the church, and crucified the apostles, was head of Christ’s church; and he that was never member of the church, is head of the church, by your new found understanding of God’s word. (Misc. Writings and Letters of Thomas Cranmer, J E Cox Ed)

    The interrogation halts at this point, and one can almost hear Martin’s triumphant cry of ‘No more questions!’ Yet although Cranmer is clearly discomfitted, he maintains his position: the monarch – any monarch – is head of the church insofar as he is the monarch, even though his headship may only extend in a worldly manner to ‘the temporal bodies of men’. But as Cranmer had shown in an earlier speech before Edward VI, the ideal was a godly head personally involved in the establishment and defence of spiritual truth:

    “Your majesty is God’s vice-gerent and Christ’s vicar within your own dominions, and to see, with your predecessor Josiah, God truly worshipped, and idolatry destroyed, the tyranny of the bishops of Rome banished from your subjects, and images removed. These acts be signs of a second Josiah, who reformed the church of God in his days. You are to reward virtue, to revenge sin, to justify the innocent, to relieve the poor, to procure peace, to repress violence, and to execute justice throughout your realms.” (ibid)

    PS I think the Revd bit is just to make sure people know it is really me – I’m having a bit of a thing about anonymous or semi-anonymous blogging where people say all sorts of things without owning up to who they are. I don’t mind if it is left off. Having said that, there are two Revd John Richardsons in Chelmsford, hence the use of the middle initial.

  5. Thank you, John. Well, all I can say is that Cranmer’s position on this matter was consistent, in making the church a mere part of the state and subject to the same head, but profoundly anti-Christian. But his behaviour was not consistent in that he refused to submit to Queen Mary as the head of the church. I suppose he could quote Peter as a precedent for refusing to submit to Nero, but the grounds on which such refusal to submit to one’s head need to be worked out clearly for such a theology to be consistent.

  6. Thank you, John. I am beginning to understand this better. The problem with this vision comes when the “prince” is not Christian, like Nero or “the Turk”, or is a Christian with a very different view, like Mary I, or potentially the Queen’s grandson Peter Phillips who has to choose between his right of succession to the throne and his Catholic fiancée. Would Cranmer have considered that such a prince has the absolute right to appoint ungodly “ministers of God’s word” who change the doctrines and practices of the church in ways “repugnant to the plain words of Scripture”, such as reintroducing transubstantiation (my quote is from article XXVIII) or allowing gay bishops, and that Christians have a duty to accept this? On this basis, don’t you have a duty to accept Bishop John Gladwin as lawfully appointed by our Queen and having the authority to hold whatever opinions he chooses on homosexuality?

  7. I think it is important to recognize that Cranmer had quite a highly developed understanding of the structure of society, which is reflected in Article 37, whereby the “godly Prince” has entrusted to him by God the governance of the Ecclesiastical and Temporal “estates and degrees”. This is not an Erastian submission of the Church to the State (as Colin Buchanan recognizes) but a much more sophisticated understanding of what the state is meant to be.

    I think this also comes out in an answer Cranmer gave to the question about what authority the apostles had to appoint bishops:

    “All christian princes have committed unto them immediately of God the whole cure of all their subjects, as well concerning the administration of God’s word for the cure of souls, as concerning the ministration of things political and civil governance. And in both these ministrations they must have sundry ministers under them, to supply that which is appointed to their several offices.
    The civil ministers under the king’s majesty in this realm of England, be those whom it shall please his highness for the time to put in authority under him: as for example, the lord chancellor, lord treasurer, lord great master, lord privy seal, lord admiral, mayors, sheriffs, &c.
    The ministers of God’s word under his majesty be the bishops, parsons, vicars, and such other priests as be appointed by his highness to that ministration: as for example, the bishop of Canterbury, the bishop of Duresme, the bishop of Winchester, the parson of Winwick, &c. All the said officers and ministers, as well of the one sort as of the other, be appointed, assigned, and elected in every place, by the laws and orders of kings and princes.”

    We may not necessarily agree with Cranmer, but I think it is important to understand how his vision undergirds both the structures of the Church of England and the English state.

  8. Peter,

    Cranmer would most certainly accept a prince’s right to appoint ungodly ministers, he was well versed in scripture and would have heeded Christ’s message on responding to the message of the Temple not necessarily its messengers. Remember Christ was an orthodox Jew and an upholder of the Torah, in the same way Cranmer would simply have referred to scriptural teaching on homosex.

    The modern prepositions that question the authorship of the chapters and verses as belonging to St Paul that are particularly problematical for the gay community and their adherents, would simply not have occurred to him. Nor would the idea that we have a better understanding today (or then) of the roles of the sexes, these are simply the machinations of the self obsessed who will not submit to the revealed will or word of God but put their own desires first, we tend to call them Heresies, they are not new.

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