A few years ago, I was setting up our chapel for a worship service. We don’t have a pulpit in the chapel, so we use a sort of moveable podium when we need one. This podium had been set up right in front of the altar (which, by the way, was set up not as a table, but an altar). One faithful woman questioned this. “Wouldn’t it be more Anglican to move the pulpit to the side and have the altar in the center?” Behind her question was the assumption that resides in many American Anglican churches, that High Churchmanship has a greater claim to being legitimately Anglican than Reformation ideas or even broad Anglican Evangelicalism. If what I have said about the history of Anglicanism so far is true, then how did we get here?
In order to understand how we got here, we must look at a particular movement within Anglicanism that doesn’t tend to get a lot of attention, even though it has profoundly impacted Anglicanism in North America. At the end of the Carolinian period, James II succeeded Charles II as King. Many had already suspected Charles II of having Catholic sympathies. James confirmed their suspicions when he converted to Catholicism. In response, James’ detractors in parliament invited his Protestant son-in-law, William of Orange, to invade England and oust the Catholic King. William accepted the proposal and came to the throne in what has come to be known as The Glorious Revolution, due to the fact that James fled before any blood could be shed.
James’ flight was accepted as his abdication and William took the throne. However, a number of bishops and clergy refused to swear the oath of allegiance to the new king, recognizing James II instead. For some, this was due to a crisis of conscience over the way James had been ousted separate from any religious convictions they held. However, James’ Catholic sympathies tended to attract loyalty from Church of England clergy with more catholic sensibilities. These bishops and clergy, known as non-jurors because of their refusal to swear loyalty to William of Orange, mostly fled to Scotland where the Episcopal Church was disestablished in favor of the Presbyterian Kirk, and took up residence in the Scottish Episcopal Church.
In the early 17th Century, a rift developed amongst the non-jurors over liturgy. A movement arose to adopt liturgies based on some ancient Eucharistic forms reintroducing elements that had been removed during the Reformation and which had consequently not even been reintroduced during the high water mark of the High Church movement with the establishment of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. These included such acts as the epiclesis (the invitation of the Holy Spirit to transform the bread and the wine in some way into the Body and Blood of Christ), invocation of the saints, and prayers for the dead.
All this history would not be incredibly important except for its deep impact on the American Church. First off, many non-juring bishops, clergy, and lay people found safe haven in the United States. The result of this movement was that the Church of England Churches in the colonies had a disproportionately high non-juring representation. It bears noting that there is an important difference between Church of England High Churchmen and Scottish Non-Jurors; namely that High Churchmen continued to live under the Church of England formularies (i.e. The 1662 Book of Common Prayer, The Articles of Religion, etc) while the Non-juring tradition was simply not bound by any authority that would enforce these formularies. Thus their theology was allowed to develop an even greater distance from the Church of England’s Reformation era roots. Thus, from the beginning, Anglicanism in America had pockets where the churchmanship was much more high than what you would have found in England at the time.
Furthermore, after The American Revolution, when The Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States of America was being formed, American bishops couldn’t be consecrated in the Church of England because of the oath of allegiance to the King. Who would they ever find that would be willing to consecrate bishops for them? You guessed it. Scottish non-jurors. Samuel Seabury was elected the bishop of Connecticut and after he travelled to England to be consecrated, discovered that the English church was unwilling to consecrate bishops for the recently liberated United States of America. He travelled to Scotland and was consecrated bishop there on the condition that he would advocate a form of Common Prayer more akin to the Scottish Wee Bookies than the standard English 1662 Book of Common Prayer. Seabury was successful and so the American Church was almost indelibly stamped with the High Church sentiments of the non-jurors.
The office of bishops also had to undergo some transformation for the formation of the American Church. After the colonies revolted under English rule, the Church of England became unpopular in The United States of America (for obvious reasons). Anglican clergy and laypeople had to go through a process of redefinition in order to cement their place in American society. Part of that process of redefinition had to do with the office of Bishop. In English society, bishops were socially elevated to the nobility. In the aftermath of the Revolution, anything that smacked of monarchy or aristocracy was suspect. The early Episcopalians, in order to defend the need for bishops in the church, began to emphasize Apostolic Succession and Catholic Order to a higher degree than Reformation Anglicans had, identifying more exclusively with the Carolinian Divines. Thus, while bishops had been preserved in England during the Reformation because of their place within British society, the logic used in The States to retain the Episcopacy centered much more around traditionally High Church doctrine.
The result of all this history was the North American Anglicanism had embedded in it a difference of emphasis than the English Church. Because of their connection with the non-juring church, American High Churchmen were significantly more ‘High’ in their church doctrine than even the average English High Churchman. Thus, when the Anglo-Catholic movement began in England, they found ready allies on the continent who had anticipated their thoughts almost a century in advance. Because of this history, many Episcopalians and Anglicans in America take for granted a view of Anglicanism that almost entirely excludes Reformation Anglicanism and uncritically accepts many doctrines and practices that would not have been accepted for centuries in the actual Church of England. Many will recognize the influence of this church as a blessing. They have found a church with rich liturgical worship. A Church that has not jettisoned its ancient roots in favor of the newest fad of churchmanship. A Church that has preserved the influence of the Early Church Fathers, not presupposing that the only significant things that have happened in church history began when Luther nailed his theses to a door in Wittenberg, Saxony. All of these are good things that the church would lose to their peril. As for myself, I have been blessed to be a part of a growing movement of Anglicans who have joyfully rediscovered not only the ancient roots of the church, but their Reformation roots. As well As a part of this Reformation heritage, I do not think that we need to lose the richness of what has been handed down to us through the ages. What I believe we gain, if we are willing, is the freedom to not only look to the past and the richness of what generations have done before us , but to measure all of our church practices against the Scriptures and keep only those practices which point people to the true freedom that comes from coming to Jesus, weary and heavy laden, and finding rest for our souls.
This is the third addition to a series on how Anglicanism has been defined at various points of its history. As we look at the different ways anglicans identify themselves, my goal is twofold. First, I have observed that there is a significant institutional amnesia within North American Anglicanism. The result is that recent innovations are often considered essential and historic markers are often dismissed. Not only that, but we often blend contradictory elements in our churchmanship without realizing what we are doing. Stop and think what it means when a priest prays a Eucharistic prayer that says that Jesus “made there by His one oblation of Himself, once offered, a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction,” and then declares as he breaks the bread “Christ our Passover IS sacrificed for us.” Regardless of what the priest may mean with these words, the message he sends is confused. In my opinion, this is the result of the sloppy blending of different systems of thought. Second, as a Reformation Anglican I want to make the case that Reformation Anglicanism has a distinct place both within the Reformed world and within Anglicanism. It would be Quixotic at best to think that all Anglicans would identify as Reformation Anglicans do. However, Reformation Anglicans stand behind the Prayer Book, The Articles, and the two great apologies for the Church of England from John Jewell and Richard Hooker. Furthermore, when Reformation Anglicans identify as Reformed, we are not simply copying other Reformed camps, but stand in a particular ground with a different ethos that many within the Reformed world would find attractive if we were only true to our roots.