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AS IT WAS IN THE BEGINNING

I have been reading a good deal about the Elizabethan, Jacobean and early Caroline church recently. The clergy by and large were not a very literate lot and thus were under constant attack by the Puritans who wished for a more reformed Church of England, more biblical preaching and less “ritualism.” Few of the bishops were much better with some notable and splendid exceptions. The Puritans dreamed of a pure church, a gathered church. “Anglicans” inherited the ideal of a “parish” church which embraced the whole community. This vision, of parson and parishioners ready to serve all who will accept their ministry in the community, rather than the paradigm of a “membership” church remains at the heart of Anglican self-understanding although TEC has fairly recently opted to stress a denominational model and ironically more and more embraces the Puritan model of church ministering to adherents of a brand of religious thought, left, middle or right.

It is now understood, for instance, that Lancelot Andrewes began his defense of the church as opposed to the idea of gathered communities of true believers before Hooker wrote his seminal “Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity.” Andrewes believed that what really mattered was not that sermons were orthodox -many were not through bad training and ignorance – but that the Liturgy was daily celebrated with its essential round of lessons, feasts and fasts in the context of the Christian Year. Naturally he and the leaders of the “Anglican” Church wished for a better trained clergy. It would take two hundred and fifty years before the first seminaries emerged, first in America. Whether that experiment in an elite priesthood has been entirely successful is an open question!

It was in such a context that the Word was to be heard, read, marked and inwardly digested, rather than in sermons which often were rants on the same old subjects of predestination and election. “Revivalism” and the notion of individual conversion had not yet taken off as it were. When people hark back to the Edwardian and early Elizabethan church as a pattern for Evangelicalism, they often pick up the baggage of Victorian revivalism and Georgian evangelicalism on the way. Of course, as a wonderful preacher Andrewes did not discount preaching anymore than did George Herbert. But the emphasis was not that of the Puritans and sectarians.

It is in this vein that I have hope that while the Liturgy is daily, or at least weekly celebrated (not just the Eucharist) within the same round of lessons, feasts, fasts in the context of the Christian Year, God will not entirely remove the candlestick from our midst

2 Responses

  1. Tony: As a self-proclaimed centrist, my biggest challenge with the Episcopal Church right now is that I feel caught between the “liberal” side in which it appears that anything goes and the “conservative” side which appears bent on exaggerating the liberal position and labeling all who elect to remain in the Episcopal Church as sadly mistaken at best and heretics at worst.

    Every time I am tempted to be sucked into that spiral of gloom, I recall that we will still celebrate the Holy Eucharist this coming Sunday, will still hear the Word read and preached, and will do all of the other things that churches do, regardless of what is going on in the wider church. That is often of immense comfort.

  2. Tony: The serious difference between the Carolines in Britain and us in the US is that TEC is not the established church. The reality of the “marketplace” (for lack of a better word) changes the landscape. It is increasingly difficult to bear effective winsome witness to the Gospel while dragging the public baggage of TEC. I certainly don’t want to be identified as a Puritan, but I feel the need to be differentiated from the dominant public stance of TEC. There’s the rub!

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