Bishop Steve Wood: What is Reformation Anglicanism?

Back in his blogging days, ACNA Archbishop-elect Steve Wood published this article in 2014:

Perhaps the easiest way to describe Reformation Anglicanism is simply by defining the words. By “reformation,” we mean that expression of the Christian faith that arose in the 16th century, commonly called the Protestant Reformation, which sought to reform the church according to the teaching of the Bible and the practice of the early church. By “Anglican,” we mean those Christian reforms that took place in England during the Protestant Reformation.

There is of course more to be said and we hope to say much more in the future. For now it may be useful to set forth a few boundary markers to help identify partners and shape future dialogue.

Reformation Anglicanism is Gospel-centered

Of the many things that could be said about the English Reformation, one aspect that is consistently overlooked is that it would not have been possible were it not for the experience of men and women receiving the good news of Jesus Christ in a personal and transformative way.

Take for example the experience of Thomas Bilney, who recounted his own conversion in the following words: At the first reading (as I well remember), I chanced upon this sentence of St. Paul (O most sweet and comfortable sentence to my soul.): ‘It is a true saying, and worthy of all men to be embraced, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the chief principle (1 Tim 1.15). This one sentence, through God’s instruction and inward working (which I did not then perceive), did so exhilarate my heart, being before wounded with the guilt, of my sins, and being almost in despair, that immediately I felt a marvelous comfort and quietness, insomuch ‘that my bruised bones leaped for joy’ (Psalm 51.8).

Through what would eventually become one of Cranmer’s famous “comfortable words,” Bilney learned that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners,” and that meant that Christ Jesus came into the world to save men like him. This good news, that Bilney found in the Scriptures is the Gospel, something that William Tyndale said “makes a man’s heart glad and makes him sing, dance, and leap for joy.” The Gospel said Tyndale:

Is joyful tidings and, as some say, a good message declared by the apostles throughout all the world of Christ, the right David, who has fought with sin, with death, and the devil, and has overcome them. By this all men who were in bondage to sin, wounded with death and overcome by the devil are, without their own merit or deserving, loosed, justified, restored to life and saved. They are brought to liberty, and reconciled to the favor of God, and set at one with Him again. The scriptures teach us of Christ alone reconciling sinners to God by grace alone and not by works, for God’s glory alone and received simply by faith alone. Reformation Anglicans are passionate about the Gospel not only because the Reformers were, but because we believe the Gospel still heals bruised bones, still makes the sad and sorrowful leap for joy, and still gives victory over sin, death, and the devil reconciling the child of God to himself and leading God’s people in liberty.

Reformation Anglicanism is Catholic

A caricature of the Reformation Anglicans is that they ignore the patristic witness and the contributions of the undivided church in favor of the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century. Not only could this not be further from the truth but this is also a serious misreading of the English Reformation.

The English Reformers very much saw themselves in continuity with the patristic church. This is why Cranmer begins many of his homilies with support from such early church theologians as Athanasius, Augustine, John Chrysostom and many others. Cranmer’s implied point is that there is Patristic support for the theological points at the heart of the Reformation. More explicitly, John Jewel argues that “God’s holy Gospel, the ancient bishops, and the primitive Church do make on our side.”

The English Reformation did not believe it was charting a new course but rather recovering an old one. The English Reformers believed that the Medieval church had lost its way and therefore needed to be re-formed. Modern Reformation Anglicans see themselves, like their forbearers as reformed catholic Christians in continuity with the historic church and bearing the doctrine and substantial marks of early Christianity.

Reformation Anglicanism is Confessional

The Articles of Religion were passed by Parliament in 1563. It is clear by the preface to the Articles that these were to serve as the measuring stick for English Protestant Orthodoxy or as we might say, Anglican Orthodoxy.

The preface reads as follows: Articuli, de quibus in synode Londinensi anno Domini, iuxta ecclesiae Anglicanae computationem, M.D.LXII. ad tollendam opinionum dissensionem, et firmandum in uera Religione consensum, inter Archiepiscopos Episcoposque utriusque Prouinciae, nec non etiam uniuersum Clerum convenit.

Articles whereupon it was agreed by the Archbishops and Bishops of both provinces and the whole clergy, in Convocation held in London in the year of our Lord 1562, according to the counsel of the Church of England for the avoiding of diversities of opinion and for the establishment of consent regarding true religion.

As can be seen from the above, the Articles of Religion were meant to establish orthodoxy within English Protestantism. Clergy in the Church of England, to demonstrate their orthodoxy subscribed to the Articles of Religion.

The significance of the above is as follows: one did not become a Cranmerian. Unlike the Lutherans, there is no such thing as a Cranmerian Church. Rather, one subscribed not to the teachings of Thomas Cranmer (or Ridley, or Parker, or Hooker, etc.) but one subscribed to the Articles of Religion. Reformation Anglicanism is informed by the various personalities of the English Reformation but it is identifiedby a confession of the faith of the Protestant Church of England. Some may rightly ask “but what of the Book of Common Prayer?” To which we respond: the doctrine is the seed, the devotional (Prayer Book) and institutional life (Ordinal) is the flower. The Book of Common Prayer is the fruit of the scripturally founded, Gospel-centered doctrine discovered in the Articles.

From here we note three things:

1) That Reformation Anglicans are “confessional” does not imply they are not catholic. Explicit in the Articles is an embrace of the early councils and creeds grounded not upon their institutional authority, but rather because “they may be proven by certain warrants of Holy Scripture” (Article VIII). We note with pleasure that the Jerusalem Declaration of the GAFCON movement “upholds the four Ecumenical Councils and the three historic Creeds as expressing the rule of faith of the one holy catholic and apostolic Church.”

2) Reformation Anglicans judge authentic Anglicanism according to conformity to the historic confession of the Church of England. Again, the Jerusalem Statement: “We uphold the Thirty-nine Articles as containing the true doctrine of the Church agreeing with God’s Word and as authoritative for Anglicans today.”

3) Reformation Anglicans embrace the ordinal and historic prayer books of the settled church (1559, 1662) as authentically showing forth the fruit of the doctrine contained in the Articles. Again, we stand in line with the Jerusalem Declaration which notes: “We rejoice in our Anglican sacramental and liturgical heritage as an expression of the gospel, and we uphold the 1662 Book of Common Prayer as a true and authoritative standard of worship and prayer, to be translated and locally adapted for each culture.”

As many of us seek to recover our great Anglican heritage we must first acknowledge that as a work of recovery, we are as men stumbling about in a room that has been neglected for quite some time. As a room that has been neglected for some time, the primary work is to help turn the lights on, uncover the furniture, and dust off the paintings. We must re-familiarize ourselves with this tradition.

  • Towards that end, we urge each of you interested in this movement of Reformation Anglicanism to dedicate yourself to a deep familiarity with the Articles of Religion and we strongly encourage you to read the following:
  • Thomas Cranmer’s “Preface” to the Bible
  • The Book of Homilies
  • Matthew Parker’s “Preface” to the Bible
  • John Jewel’s Apology for the Church of England
  • Alexander Nowell’s Catechism

Reformation Anglicanism is not a slogan. Rather it is a Christian tradition, indeed the most historic Christian tradition within Anglicanism. As a tradition, it deserves to be studied, meditated upon, and prayed over. In the Diocese of the Carolinas, the Ridley Institute aims to provide a Reformation Anglicanism Bibliography for all its Ordinands to complete and be prepared to be examined upon by the end of their theological training. We would encourage all those interested in this movement to take the study of it seriously.

Reformation Anglicanism is not a historical fetish. Rather, we see in the English Reformation and the 39 Articles of Religion a clear, vibrant, and costly articulation of the saving power of the Gospel as proclaimed by our Lord Jesus and set forth in the Holy Scriptures. In this time of global Anglican turmoil, Reformation Anglicanism acts as an anchor rooting us within faithful, historic, Gospel-centered Christianity. It is the Gospel-centrality that exalts the glory of God, the grace of Jesus Christ, and the power of the Holy Spirit that we cherish above all else. Reformation Anglicanism is simply a gracious reminder that Anglicans who cherish such things do not need to look beyond their own tradition to be resourced for mission both now and in the future.






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