For Evangelical And Reformed Folk Contemplating The Canterbury Trail

A number of Baptists some Presbyterian and Reformed folk have announced in the last year or so that they have become Anglican.

With that move to a new tradition, there is a honeymoon phase and the accompanying rush of enthusiasm. As I have long said here, there are things to love about the Anglican tradition(s). I have learned much and continue to learn much from some great Anglican theologians. I appreciate the Book of Common Prayer (1549 and 1662). In some respects it is a wonderful resource for piety. Nevertheless, folk from the Baptistic-evangelical world and those confessional P&R folk going on the Canterbury Trail (as Bob Webber put it 35 years ago, when Baptists did this the first time)1 should take some time to learn about the tradition(s) they are embracing before they make the pilgrimage.

There are a few outstanding proponents of the best parts of Reformation Anglicanism but there is much more to the Anglican story than Reformation Anglicanism. Indeed, from a historical perspective, Reformation Anglicanism was a blip, which was wiped out by a tsunami of Latitudinarianism, and then, after a few Reformation-minded Anglicans popped up in the 19th century, by a second tsunami of Anglo-Catholicism. I understand your frustration with contemporary Evangelical and Reformed piety and practice. After a couple of years in the UK and while I was at the heart of the evangelical world, I contemplated joining the Anglican tradition for a time. Allen Guelzo’s history (see below) of the Reformed Episcopal Church was very helpful to me as I worked through the issues.

The world-wide Anglican communion is in crisis. Faithful Anglican bishops are so hard to find that some Anglicans have to place themselves under “flying bishops” (which sounds like as much fun as “The Flying Nun”). Reformation Anglicanism is a very small part of the modern Anglican story too. I understand if you are frustrated by the vapidness of evangelical theology, piety, and practice, by the weight of fundamentalism, or even by those confessional P&R congregations that are not living up to their confessions and traditions but Anglicanism, as attractive as it may seem right now, will prove to be much more complicated than it seems at the moment. Ask those who are starting to ponder the language being used by some Bishops and others in the ACNA about “gay Christians.”

There is no perfect tradition but once again, I am begging those who disenchanted with fundamentalism and revivalism to give Geneva a chance. Please do not assume that what you have experienced is Geneva. It is not. If you tried Geneva and were disappointed, I am sorry. I think we can do better than what you found and experienced. I hope you will give us another try.

To those who are heirs of Geneva, please do your level best to give the incoming refugees the thing for which they long: the gospel unconfused with the law, the pure administration of the sacraments, and faithful, loving church discipline. They are not coming for your hot takes on the culture. They are desperate for Christ and his gospel. They are not coming to see your cheesy attempt to be hip. They need you to receive them warmly, to feed them well, and to care for them as Christ’s lambs.

NOTE

1. Bob was a colleague for a couple of years when I taught at Wheaton and there I learned from him that Anglicanism was just one of many stops on his journey.

Resources

    Post authored by:

  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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4 comments

  1. I owe a lot to Reformed/Evangelical Anglicans. I regret to say that when I first got involved in Preb/Ref. circles, it seemed they were all unhappy that they weren’t Baptacostal or Plymouth Brethren; now too many seem to wish they could be Roman or Constantinopolitan (there seems to be a strong strain of it among some FV’s). But, while admitting debts to those outside the Reformed tradition, I find it extremely refreshing when I am in a Reformed setting that endeavors to be itself.

    Sure, don’t shoot the others, since they’re brethren. But, we have something valuable, and I wish Dr. Clark great blessings in recovering our Reformed confession.

  2. In the UK, there’s also the question of whether you join or remain in the Church of England still established by law, or the Free Church of England (Evangelical Connexion) – one wouldn’t want to join what now keeps the name of “Free Church of England” – or the Church of England (Continuing). In my observation, what people chose was as much affected by whom they knew as by what they believed. One factor is that Baptist practices and theology are now accepted as part of the mosaic (lower case “m”) in the Church of England. One highly capable High Church bishop (sadly deceased before I could renew our acquaintance from undergraduate days) was very supportive of Evangelicals.
    I use Metrical Psalms in what almost passes (in my sight) for private devotions, rather than Anglican chants, but I do have to acknowledge the superiority of the latter in spiritual terms. It is true that the Metrical Psalms were composed with reference to the original Hebrew, but that does not negate the overall antidynamic nature of the compromises necessary to achieve formal versification (“Both good Thou art and good Thou dost: Teach me Thy statutes, Lord” is one felicitous exception; but occasionally a highly questionable exegesis is forced by wording which, when singing, whether privately or in a service, I feel obliged to change, e.g., the greatest enemy of the Wicked – Capital “W” – is not Satan, but God). On the other hand, I did find the weekly repetition of the Te Deum tedious, and the historicity of the claimed origin of the Benedicite, well, dicey. And whilst the Greek style of Luke 1-2 is undoubtedly, in literary terms, elevated (probably because Luke’s natural style was, in literary terms, elevated and he had personally put their material into the oral corpus from which the many gospels to which he refers – all of them good, but, with the exception of the four Canonical, disappeared without trace – took their contents), does that make the Benedictus and the Nunc Dimittis Songs of Scripture that the Church is under obligation to repeat week after week?
    None of this inhibits me from attending Anglican services when so inclined.

  3. David Virtue weighs in re the ACNA & “gay Christians.”

    For those who object re the PCA and Revoice, please consult the resources I listed at the end of the post, where I address Revoice at length.

    1. Revoice is not a letter from ecclesiastical officers. It’s a non-ecclesiastical meeting (held in a PCA building at one point).

    2. It is being addressed by presbyteries in the PCA, who are asking the General Assembly to rule on the matter.

  4. Dr. Clark,

    Thank you for writing this piece. It helps me process some of the thoughts that I had when attending a well-known Christian college. I had many friends who attended the local ACNA church, many of whom had for a time previously attended the OPC church I had attended for my time in school. It seemed that there was a general perception that the ACNA offered a deeper religious experience than another, more confessionally Reformed church could provide (QIRE?). While they faithfully preached the Gospel, I always wondered why people with no proclivity towards that tradition gravitated there. All that being said, I wonder how we can promise to “do better” to those who were given a bad experience in Geneva. I think of the recent struggles we in the P&R world have had regarding particular authors of the fairer sex, and how the behavior of those shepherds would be seen as “toxic”. How can we best hold to our Reformed convictions and still minister to a world that accuses of the heinous sins of today (e.g. “misogyny”, abuse, homophobia, etc). Thanks.

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