A few months after we moved permanently to Austin, we joined an Anglican church in the south part of the city. Both of our sons and their respective families were already part of the congregation there (including among those families five of our seven grandchildren), and of course this made the church very attractive to us.
What do “Anglicans” believe? Are they "reformed" in their theology? A clue to the answer to that question is the liturgy in which our South Austin congregation participates. As I listened to the liturgy each Sunday, taken from the Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England, itself based on Scripture, I found it sufficiently consistent with what I understand to be true Christianity to be willing on a faith level to join that church.
It certainly helped that, in the adult Sunday School Class at FPC Miami Springs, we had read works by John Stott and N.T. Wright, both priests in the Church of England, as we explored the Scriptures. Furthermore, at FPCMS we had participated in several “Alpha” programs, an evangelistic program founded in London during the 1970s by a priest of the Church of England.
Since joining our Anglican church, I have been exploring the history of what is known as “The English Reformation.” Among the books about that subject is a classic entitled The English Reformation by A. G. Dickens. It is not a religious book; it is a history by an acclaimed British historian.
I participate in an on-line Sunday School Class. For the last several weeks, we have been discussing the doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone in our study of Galatians. Getting the matter of works vs. faith straight has been challenging. Dickens writes about that doctrine, a doctrine that he asserts came to the Church of England in the early 16th Century from Martin Luther via Thomas Cranmer. Dickens writes that the doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone is “the keystone” of what Luther believed. I find helpful Dickens's description of it, and I hope you will too:
“The antithesis between God and man presented by Luther, and indeed by the Apostle [Paul] himself, is stark in the extreme. On the one hand stands the Deity in his unutterable majesty and justice; on the other languishes man in his corrupt self-centredness; his wretched nature being curved inward upon itself; he remains unable even to approach the divine standards by his own pitiful observances and good works. But if God’s righteousness is terrifying, his loving purpose toward man is boundless. In the Son he has furnished man with the sole means of transcending this awful inadequacy. God will justify men – put them in a right relationship with himself – only if they abandon all reliance upon personal merit and place their whole trust in the merits of Christ. Truly, good works are an inevitable outcome of this faith, yet in themselves they contribute nothing to justification and salvation; they can form a dangerous stumbling-block to misguided men, who take pride in them as a title to redemption. To this sequence of thought St. Paul repeatedly returns, and Luther took it as the very heart of early Christian theology.”I would quibble with Dickens, however, about the idea that the doctrine is “the very heart of early Christian theology.” It has been the true heart of Christian theology continuously from the beginning, remains so at this moment, and will continue to be so in the future.