Faced with the crisis currently enveloping the Church of England
and the Anglican Communion it is easy to get absorbed by problems.
But it is important to keep in our minds not only the problems
but what the Church should be. The primary purpose of Church Society
is to uphold the character of the Church of England as a reformed
and national church. This raises the question of what it means
to be a reformed church. Below are eight distinguishing marks
of a reformed Church. These are what the Church of England should
of the Bible
It is a cornerstone
of all reformed Churches that the Bible is God's Word given through
the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The Bible therefore has all
the authority of God its author and is without error as originally
given. The Church did not invent the Bible, but came to acknowledge
its authority. Whilst the Church is given the task of safeguarding
the message it can itself err and has erred because it is made
up of fallen men and women not all of who are governed by the
Spirit and Word of God (Article 21). Therefore, the Church is
always under the Word. History demonstrates amply that people
have again and again claimed the Bible to be in conflict with
archaeology, history, science, sociology etc. Time and again these
claims have evaporated. Human beings are finite and fallible;
our ideas are changing all the time. The Bible is God's Word,
therefore though we must use our understanding we submit our own
reason to the Word of God. The Bible describes the real world,
it therefore speaks to people in specific cultural settings, it
could not do otherwise. Nevertheless, the primary issue in Biblical
interpretation is not culture, but covenant. The Bible itself
provides the tools for interpretation. The key issue in interpretation
is how the words relate to Christ, do they speak to those who
awaited His first coming or those who live in the light of that
and now await His return?
Whilst the Bible has
supreme and exclusive authority reformed Churches have always
seen fit to draw up confessional standards. These had two initial
purposes, first to give clear and concise statements of Biblical
truth in an age when ignorance and error was prevalent. Secondly,
doctrinal standards provide a bulwark against error. Such concerns
are also evident in the development of the historic Creeds.
The Church of England
has a clear doctrinal standard in the Thirty-Nine Articles of
Religion. Whilst it is influenced by its age it nevertheless represents
a clear and concise statement of key truths and is faithful to
Scripture. A reformed church needs such a standard, but more importantly
it must actually be adhered to.
Ideally the Articles would be revised
both in their language and in order to supplement. However, with
the Church at such low ebb spiritually and so far from its reformed
heritage any such change at
this time would be a disaster.
that is honouring to God
The Church of England
has always been a liturgical Church. At the Reformation and in
the century that followed it opted to reform rather than replace
the worship it had inherited. It can be argued that it did not
reform enough, but we remember that even the worship of the Temple,
given by the command of God, could be futile when the hearts of
worshippers were far from Him.
The magisterial reformers
saw no clear pattern in Scripture for Christian worship and therefore
were content to reform past practice in accordance with Biblical
principles. So, for example, Cranmer's Communion Service took
existing practice, translated it into English, removed the errors
and gave it a new shape and order with some additions. The service
is shaped and driven by a reformed understanding of the atonement
and its application.
There is nothing sacrosanct
about the language or patterns of the 1662 BCP but it is a fine,
perhaps unsurpassed, example of reformed liturgy. It is a sad
fact that today so many churches who claim to uphold Biblical
teaching use liturgies which are unreformed in shape and doctrine.
who are faithful to God
Under the New Covenant
as the Old, leadership is a clear part of God's purposes for His
people. Jesus appointed Apostles and in the New Testament we see
the emergence of other forms of leadership. God has often raised
up leaders through whom He has guided His people. However, in
Scripture and history we also see the harm done by ungodly leadership.
It is therefore vital that those called into leadership match
the exacting standards of God's Word.
The Pastoral Epistles
in particular lay down criteria for those to be leaders in the
Church of God. These expectations are not of quaint historical
interest but are instructions for the New Testament church until
Christ returns and such leadership becomes unnecessary. The standards
expected of leaders have to do with their own standards of life
but also their conformity to Christian doctrine. Such expectations
are part and parcel of authentic Anglicanism and the refusal to
uphold them, particularly in terms of doctrine is the root of
much of the present crisis.
A gospel to be made known to all
God is sovereign and
reformed Christians have always accepted that as our beginning
rests in the eternal purposes of God so does our future. In preaching
we make known the call of God to repentance and faith whilst fully
believing that the result of this call depends wholly on the sovereign
grace of God.
The reality and extent
of sin and its grip on our lives is a key feature of reformed
theology. The consequence of sin, by the just judgement of God,
is death and eternal separation from God. There is nothing that
human beings can do to undo the problem of sin because it runs
too deep. Hence the clear focus that salvation is to be found
only through Jesus Christ because He alone is the mediator between
God and man. Not only does this shape the message we preach it
should also lead to genuine humility as we give all the glory
to God. In turn this produces strong assurance since our
salvation does not depend on our strength but on God's.
Unless the Church proclaims
this message then it will be blighted. Famously Martin Luther said it is the article by which the Church stands or falls. When
the message is compromised many who appear to be Christians will
not be because they do not put their faith in Christ alone. When
sin is downplayed true believers will have little understanding
of the cost of Christ's sacrifice, they will show low standards
of holiness and will stagnate in faith. When human decision is
magnified believers have a poor understanding of grace, too much
dependence on their own strength and no assurance.
lives and society
The Holy Spirit is at
work in those who belong to Christ and, amongst other things,
helps us to live by God's standards. Being transformed is a long
and slow process. Furthermore, as we grow in understanding ourselves
as well as God's standards it will often appear that we are failing.
Yet this is part of the process by which God is preparing us for
Since God is the creator
of all, the standards laid down in Scripture are therefore good
for all and show us how society may be shaped and moulded for
the benefit of all. Transformed lives will have an impact on the
world and reformed Christians have always taken a positive stance
towards engagement in the world. Old Testament figures such as
Joseph and Daniel have been seen as key models - faithful in the
service of men but uncompromising in the service of God.
Christian fellowship available for all
It is God's purpose
to create for himself a people. In the Old Testament the assembly
(Church) became focussed in the children of Abraham, Isaac and
Jacob. In the coming of Christ this is taken back to the children
of Abraham no longer defined by lineage but now by faith. Now
the people of God are the body of Christ and all who are in Christ
are part of this body.
Christian fellowship is a right and necessary expression of belonging
to Christ. It is essential for spiritual wellbeing. Our desire
should be that all Christians have access to Christian fellowship
with true believers where the Word of God is faithfully taught.
Historically churches have been primarily location focused, hence
the parish system. There have always been exceptions (boatpeople
and travellers) and in the world there are likely to be more.
However, most people live in one place and since fellowship is
fundamental they should set aside a day a week for this. Sadly
it is now very difficult for many people, particularly in rural
areas, to find true fellowship and faithful teaching. In such
situations as in the early church and in missionary endeavour
they may well need to focus on small groups meeting in homes.
The Church is a supernatural body but it is also a human society
and therefore it is prone to corruption and decay. Just as we
know ourselves always to be prone to temptation and sin so we
can never expect the Church to be perfect or to be free from the
dangers of error and stagnation until Christ returns. Reform will
always be necessary and it should be a constant task. This should
not be confused with change. There are those who believe that
the Church must be continually changing to reflect the changing
culture in which we live. Reform has to do with transforming the
church under the word of God.
For the English reformers reform did not mean abandoning the insights
of heritage unless they were contrary to Scripture. Cultural change
is necessary in order not to put up artificial barriers but
sometimes reform will mean taking a stand against culture for
the sake of Christ.
There is no single or simple structure for the church laid down
in Scripture. The reformed churches arose as a reaction to pernicious
power of the papal church and have sought to protect themselves
from such corruption. Many followed the presbyterian model but
in Anglicanism, whilst retaining the order of Bishops, the Church
relied on the laity to provide the safeguard against clerical
power. In particular this was represented by parliament as the
representative of the people but also by such things as lay patronage.
Today, although parliament still nominally acts on behalf of the
laity it has ceded much of its role to General Synod and there
are many concerns about growing centralisation of power.
Reform of the structures
is required to return the focus to the local Church, to reduce
the role and workload of Bishops so that they can be more effective
as pastor/teachers and less involved in meddling. Synodical government
must ensure that the laity of the Church is not steamrollered.
Ecclesia reformata semper reformanda. (The Church reformed
and always being reformed.)
contents of this page are taken from an article in Cross†Way
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