Luther was once asked how he started the Reformation. In his characteristic florid style, Luther replied, “I did not start the reformation. All I did was preach the word of God and drink beer. The Word of God did the reforming.”
Similarly, Dr. Otto Piper of Princeton Seminary once admonished his students in this way:
We make a mistake when we think that Luther and Calvin produced the Reformation. What produced the Reformation was that Luther studied the word of God. And as he studied it, it began to explode in him. And when it began to explode inside him he did not know any better than to let it loose on Germany. The same was true of Calvin. The tragedy of the Reformation was that when Luther and Calvin died, Melanchthon and Beza edited their works. And so all the Lutherans began to read the Bible to find Luther and all the Calvinists read the Bible to find Calvin. And the great corruption was on its way. Do you know there is enough undiscovered truth in the Bible to produce a Reformation and evangelical Awakening in every generation, if we only expose ourselves to it until it explodes in us and we let it loose?
Anglicanism shares in this larger movement of reform. It began as an indigenous reform movement of the 15th and 16th centuries that was let loose by Latimer, Ridley, Cranmer but was co-opted by a politically opportunistic King—(something, of course, that never happens in our age!). Despite this checkered beginning, Anglicanism remains a reform movement within the larger body of Western Christendom. In subsequent centuries it has spawned smaller reform movements such as the Wesleyan revival in the 18th century, the Oxford movement in the 19th century and most recently the Alpha Movement in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.
Each of these Anglican renewal movements has three defining doctrinal emphases, which together constitute the full power of Christian salvation: original sin (everyone needs a Savior, not just a coach), justifying grace (such a Savior and his salvation has been given to us without our merit) and sanctifying grace (the salvation is a person and walking with him will transform us). The surface differences, between Methodism, the Oxford movement and Alpha, though not immaterial, should not obscure this deeper shared Anglican doctrinal deposit.
Like the other Reformers, Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer, was a Catholic who yearned to see the Medieval Church reformed according to these three-fold emphases. The Church of England, like the Reformation churches in Europe, was simply an attempt to re-Christianize Christendom by re-introducing to the Church the full power of Christian salvation. The Reformers goal was making new Christians, not Cranmerians nor even Lutherans or Calvinists. Where the various Reformation Churches diverged was in the strategy and tactics they employed to achieve this common goal of re-Christianization.
Somewhere else, I have explained the relationship between Anglicanism and the Reformation Churches:
Anglicanism was an indigenous reform movement which shared many features of the Continental reformation: gospel liberty, biblical literacy and ecclesiastical down-sizing. At its early stages the reform was a synthesis of Erasmus’ strategy of learning, Bucer’s concern for parish-based discipline, both of which were grafted onto Luther’s re-discovery of justification by faith as the root transaction between God and humans. This discovery of Luther was due, in part, to his re-discovery of Augustine’s doctrine of grace . . . . A variety of scholars were stimulated to a new perception of Augustine by the first scholarly printed edition of his work which began to appear in the late 15th century. The impact of this discovery cannot be over-emphasized.
This common patrimony in Augustine is an essential part of our Church’s identity. In his 1562 defense of Anglicanism, “Apology of the Church of England,” John Jewel relied extensively on the Fathers to make his case, but quoted St. Augustine far more than any other Father of the Church. We Anglicans highly esteem the Bible as the Word of God, the norm of Christian faith, but we Anglicans also know the Bible cannot be read in a vacuum. Every one reads the Bible from some standpoint or tradition. Anglicans acknowledge, up front, that we read the Bible through the lens of the early Church. And Augustine was the epitome of the early Church—nearly every doctrinal controversy or creedal resolution passed through him. It is not an overstatement to say that Anglicans are essentially reformed Augustinians, keeping original sin, grace and sanctification as the integrating touchstones of how salvation works.
This reformist character of Anglicanism–highlighted by its Augustinian interplay of original sin, grace and sanctification—outlines our historical beginnings. But I think it also illumines how modern Anglicanism “got off the rails” in North America. The Episcopal Church spawned two quasi-theological movements in the past two centuries: Liberalism in the 19th century and the Charismatic renewal in the 20th century. Unfortunately, neither Liberalism nor Charismatic renewal rotated entirely around this Anglican theological universe. Liberalism upheld justifying grace (“all is forgiven”), but neglected (and sometimes outright denied) original sin and sanctification (salvation is more than forgiveness; its transformation). The Charismatic renewal upheld original sin and sanctification (real transformation can happen now), but often neglected grace (especially in its justifying work). The Charismatic movement in the Episcopal Church did not, by and large, become an evangelistic force like it did in England. Nominal Christians did become fully and functionally Trinitarian, but it largely had a renewing force and mostly at the affective level. Each movement generated its own constellation of theological shooting stars but neither illuminated nor radiated the full power of salvation. Thus, neither was theologically nourishing nor evangelistically fruitful. American Christendom, lamentably, was not re-Christianized by our Church.
I believe Anglicanism in North America must, among other things, appropriate the heritage outlined above in order to fulfill its full redemptive potential. American Christendom needs to be re-Christianized; our fellow citizens need the purifying and life-giving love of God. Our liturgical heritage, in particular, brings gifts to this missionary challenge. At our best, we Anglicans are a reformed and reforming movement of Catholic Christians, devoted to the historic faith, liturgy and practice of the early church. We possess both a form (sacramental Christianity) that preserves the various ritual processes that leads to conversion. Our liturgical heritage is essential to our formation of Christians; it’s how we shape people into a living faith. Christianization requires more than information transmission because persons are more than “brains on a stick.” The liturgy recruits our bodies into offering the self to God. The liturgy even recruits the imagination to participate in the “mind of Christ.”
But within our Catholic form we staunchly proclaim an evangelical hope that speaks to the anomie in the post-modern American soul. Our hope is in the unique and singular truth of Jesus Christ’s life, death and resurrection for the world. We aspire to proclaim him in all of his beauty and glory. And so we believe that it is now time to thoughtfully and prayerfully re-engage the Word of God—both incarnate and inspired—until that Word explodes in us and we simply “let it loose” in North America. If we do, I would not be surprised to see the next Great Awakening emerge from within our communion of Churches.