Process It is abundantly obvious that in different times there has been a different emphasis in teaching and applying the faith. In Medieval days when life was usually short and often brutish, the emphasis was on salvation and to be blunt, how one managed to get into heaven. Because in Europe everyone was baptized the concern was not so much on evangelism but on how the baptized were encouraged to live holy lives and how people might be prepared for death and of course what happened after death.
At the Reformation and for somewhile afterwards, attention shifted, at least in non-(Roman) Catholic communions on a different approach to salvation. Most still lived what we would regard as precarious lives, open to the ravages of disease. As the theology regarding the process of salvation had changed -one died and went either to heaven or hell immediately – a greater emphasis was placed on holy living. Unlike most communities affected by the Reformers and their teaching, Anglicanism explored what Jeremy Taylor termed holy living and holy dying and that process led not a few to stress conduct over theology. Churchmen epitomized by Archbishops Tenison and Tillotson, whose moralistic sermons were avidly read in pulpit and study were popularly interpreted as propounding a “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” approach to Christianity. This was a religion for the intellectual and the well-heeled. Those consigned to lives of poverty and servitude were left out. One of the practical results of such an approach was that except in the countryside, and perhaps even there, many lost interest in the church or the church lost interest in them.
The Industrial Revolution in England and the expansion of the frontier in America created an unchurched “class”. Methodism was founded and grew in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and in the “Colonies” by clergy and lay people who found such pastoral neglect a scandal and moralism a pathetic substitute for the Gospel. While Evangelicals and later Anglo-Catholic slum priests sought to reach ordinary people with a holistic Gospel of both salvation and economic reform the shadow of the moralism remained a strong element in the Anglican Establishment perhaps more so in America than in the mother country. Southern land and slave holders and northern upwardly mobile merchants, lawyers and intellectuals formed the ruling class in Episcopalianism.
An Intellectual Clergy
The seminary movement which began in the early days of the 19th. Century perhaps unwittingly strengthened the reality of an Anglican Church dominated by the upper middle class. Until that time most Anglican clergy were to a great extent tied to the land. Although they were largely recruited from the monied classes, they earned their keep by farming or leasing out their glebes and rubbed shoulders daily with farmers and farm laborers. In England most attended Oxford or Cambridge, but this does not suggest they were usually intellectuals or scholars. Many were and from that class came the higher clergy. Not a few had not graduated. In the Colonies many or most read for Orders. With the exception of the College of William and Mary there were no Anglican faculties of theology in the New World. Granted many colonial clergy came from the upper classes and not a few droned purchased sermons and catered to their wealthy patrons.
The seminary movement recruited men who were to be given roughly the sort of training previously provided in England by university faculties. Until the post world war period few of humble origin or income were admitted to ordination. What emerged was a “class” of clergy cut off from the experience of working class people while perhaps not fitting in to the intellectual lives of the advantaged. Some pride was taken that Anglican priests were socially and intellectually “above” the parochial clergy of the Roman Catholic Church. Anglican parish priests were potentially gentlemen: Roman Catholic parish priests and Methodist ministers were not. However all but a few of seminary trained Anglican clergy had the skills necessary to minister to ordinary people who read little but the sports page in the newspaper. The sort of religion championed by the 18th. Century “Latitudinarians” re-asserted itself and Anglicanism, at least in the United States became more and more intolerant of biblical and doctrinal religion and more and more interested in that aspect of Christianity which stressed social improvement. The division of doctrinal religion from social improvement and the growing belief that doctrine and practice were mutually exclusive led to the assumption that working class, non-intellectual people would be attracted to fundamentalism or less elite Christian bodies than the Episcopal Church. Outreach to African-Americans or Hispanics were to those upwardly mobile and educated.
This process has lead to an emphasis on the here and now, on creating a new world in this life, of building the kingdom by political and social action. Jesus is Saviour because the Christian community is useful in such a process. Oddly in this process the liturgy of the church remains in odd distinction to the religion espoused. Although class and manners were by this time out of vogue as a standard for parsons professionalism swiftly became their new disguise. The church needs scholar parsons and pastoral priests. The problem remains that present methods of selection and training produce neither except by accident or native talent.
Now of course the church is called to transform society and not merely by “saving souls”. It is also true that the emphasis on self-improvement of contemporary conservative politics is deeply Pelagian, an odd philosophy for orthodox Christians. Yet the movement from an interest in salvation, a holy living and a holy dying, has removed Anglicanism ironically almost completely from the lives and culture of the poor whom we claim to champion. This dysjunction is furthered by our fear of training clergy whose lives are connected to ordinary folk. A church for and by a class is a sect.
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