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A Contending Anglican

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Posted by David Banting, 16 Nov 2018

David Banting describes his journey from 'cradle' Anglican to 'convinced' and 'contending' Anglican.

I have recently been described as a Puritan. It was clearly intended at best as a put-down and more probably as a rebuke. But the more I research the Puritans, the more I receive the taunt as an inadvertent compliment and in fact rather discerning! From the time of the Reformation up to a hundred years later at the Restoration in the 1660s, the Puritans operated at the edges of the Church of England. The issue for them all was that the biblical reformation of the national Church did not seem to have been completed or gone far enough, while for some the particular issue was that they preferred a presbyterian or independent/congregational governance of the Church to an episcopal. Some ended up choosing to leave the Church of England, others were ejected and yet others were prepared to remain within the parameters and constraints or inconsistencies of a national Church. In any event, the Puritans lived at the perimeter.

Why am I an Anglican? I am persuaded by the essentially biblical and practical arguments to stay within the Church of England from perhaps the most able of the Puritans of the sixteenth century, Thomas Cartwright. For all his robust and courageous support for non-episcopal government for the national Church, he would still counsel those considering leaving in fact to remain. His reasons included the realism that any church is mixed as being made up of sinners, that disobedience is not the same as atheism or idolatry, that Christ’s teaching and own practice and that of the apostles suggested that any separation before God’s separation of sheep and goats would be premature, that the Church of England remained a church if the ministry of Word and sacrament was retained, and that the faithful and godly remnant would act as leaven for the lump [Summarised by Peter Lake in his book Moderate Puritans and the Elizabethan Church (Cambridge: CUP, 1982), and quoted by Peter Adam in his St Antholin Lecture in 1998, with the title ‘A Church “Halfly Reformed”, itself alluding to a Puritan sermon to Queen Elizabeth I.]

A Cradle Anglican
However I may look to the historical past, I remain an Anglican for reasons drawn from my own life and cumulative thinking. I am a cradle Anglican. The middle of three sons, I was routinely and sincerely brought for baptism within a month of my birth by typically Anglican parents – not regular church-goers, but clearly church-respected and generally God-fearing. My father’s diaries (read after his death) reveal influence by the CICCU in university days, and my mother’s education was clearly well-versed in the Bible. However, I do not remember belonging to a local church or even attending Sunday school. Send to boarding school from the age of eight, my exposure to the Christian faith was the school chapel and ‘Scripture’ (at preparatory and public school) and that was, of course, in the 1960s totally and unreservedly Anglican and BCP. Without realising it, I imbibed a surprising amount of Scripture, especially the Psalms, and 1662 liturgy.

A Converted Anglican
At the age of eighteen, quite against the run of play, I became a converted Anglican. Over fifteen months, the witness of friends who had become Christians and an informal discussion group with speakers slowly eroded my ignorance and prejudices by helping me to understand that ‘Christianity is Christ’. The opening of the Bible introduced me to the living Christ and to the grace of God. Yes, I was a Revelation 3.20 beginner, no real conviction of sin or wonder at the cross of Christ, but simple acceptance that Jesus had come and died to make friendship with God possible.

After a gap year in Ethiopia, my four years at Cambridge were an exhilarating time of growth and grounding in the faith of the Scriptures and the partnership of the gospel. A faithful elder brother and mentor, Christian camps and house-parties, amazing weekly CICCU Bible readings (I heard Alec Motyer on Isaiah, which twenty years later was to be published by IVP as his magnum opus), two stunning missions with Michael Green and David MacInnes and the quiet, but eye-opening ministry of the Round Church, all combined to make this the formative time in my Christian life and ministry. Mark Ruston at the Round ensured that Christian undergraduates were given the opportunity before they graduated to hear first-hand about full-time ministry and to consider the call. But it was meeting an Industrial Chaplain that first lit up the alarming possibility of ordination.

I accepted an invitation to teach at a large and well-known boarding school – Classics, RE and sport: a great combination and for me a second education! Half-way through my three years there an ACCM selection conference recommended me for training for ordained ministry, and I began at Wycliffe Hall in 1977. Friends will recall most of my time appearing to be occupied with the university and in particular… sport. But Keith Weston invited me to be his curate at St Ebbe’s, Oxford, and in 1980 at the age of twenty-eight I was both married and ordained.

A Converted Anglican
I was by then becoming a convinced Anglican. It was Keith who taught and modelled that ‘unvarnished Anglicanism is evangelical Anglicanism’. His rhythm of biblical preaching and mission-mindedness with the heart-beat of prayer and pastoral visiting, combined with the writings of John Stott and Jim Packer (that ‘evangelical’ was no party label, but essentially biblical) and the zeal of Michael Green and David Watson (that evangelism was the name of the game), set much of the framework for my understanding and practice of Christian ministry. Of course, these were the founding years of what was to grow into the Proclamation Trust. The mentors I have mentioned helped me to appreciate in practice the legacy of the Reformation in the form of the Church of England’s Thirty-Nine Articles (especially VI, VII, XIX, XX, and XXI – on the place and purpose of Scripture) and of the Ordinal attached to The Book of Common Prayer. They seemed to follow in the footsteps of Charles Simeon, that great Cambridge pioneer of evangelical Anglican ministry from the previous century. Though the ASB arrived in 1980, St Ebbe’s was BCP in theology and practice, if not in liturgy. Grace was at the heart of everything.

A Concerned Anglican
The curacy was followed by six years as a District minister in Wolverhampton. They were halcyon days of exploring and experimenting in gospel outreach and building of the local church. My convictions of the Church of England were largely positive – biblically, theologically and ministerially. The formularies were Bible-based, oversight from bishops seemed minimalist, benign and theologically careful, and the parish system was a stimulus to bring ‘the gospel to every man’s door’. It was the decade of Mission England (in 1984, 1985 and 1989) with Billy Graham.

However, by the time I actually became an incumbent in 1990, clouds were on the horizon. I was beginning to be a concerned Anglican. Much as I was and am convinced about the primacy of the local church (as Article XIX inclines), I could not ignore issues in the ‘wider Church’. The Church is not only a local, independent congregation – our creeds are catholic creeds, believed ab omnibus et ubique. Nor is it the essentially human structure of the diocese. But that the wider Church means something is indicated by the place and implications of ordination and episcopacy, i.e. the recognition of the need and value of an authenticated ministry and oversight. Throughout the 1980s, many issues were coming to the boil: moral, doctrinal, financial, ministerial, missionary. When the world Church called for a Decade of Evangelism, the Church of England seemed to lack the shape or morale to be positive. Its responses to decline came over as centralised and managerial, concerned more with maintenance than mission.

It was at this time and in response to a wide range of concerns that Reform was born. Reform exists ‘to reach the nation for Christ’ and for the reform of the national Church to that end. And it felt like a breath of fresh air to hear again that God was not so much concerned with the salvation of the national Church as with the salvation of the nation. And in every generation the Church needs to be renewed by the Spirit of God and reformed by the Word of God – ecclesia semper reformanda.

A Contending Anglican
The presenting issues of recent years have been gender roles and human sexuality, but the rub goes deeper, to the question of authority in the Church. The classic Anglican answer has been that the Scriptures are ‘the supreme authority’ and that bishops are specially charged to ‘teach and guard the faith’ – ‘the faith once delivered to the saints, and uniquely revealed in the Holy Scriptures’ – ‘and to refute error’. This essay is not the place to tell the story of Reform in the last thirteen years, but it has sadly had to be focused around the centralised issues and impacts of Synods and bishops. And, to remain an Anglican, I have had to become a contending Anglican – in the spirit of Jude 3 or Philippians 1:7 and 1:27. It is not comfortable, but for me at any rate necessary. If the Church declines from being, in the best sense, truly evangelical and evangelistic, it will die.

It is not the Church of England in itself that enables me to remain an Anglican. It is what it stands on and can stand for. It stands on the Word of grace, ‘God’s Word written’, and it stands for the evangelisation of the whole nation. But it stands in need of another Reformation. That of four hundred years ago was described (in Nile Harvest, by Brian de Saram) like this: ‘The Bible began to be read again, read in a new way… went straight to the text and asked what it meant. The appeal was to the mind and will rather than to the emotions. In this way the Bible came alinve and had the force of a living word of God spoken directly to contemporary man. The doctrine of justification by faith set men free to discover a new and direct relationship with God which brought about an inner transformation of character that was far more basic than any change in ritual or organisation. Thus, holiness of character was seen to be the standard not only of the monastery, but of society at large. The layman was called to be a saint. His place of witness was the home, the field and the factory. This was Reformation indeed.’

This article is reproduced from the 2006 Orthos booklet, ‘Why I Am An Anglican’, originally published by the Fellowship of Word and Spirit, and now available on our Resources page.

David Banting is Pastoral Adviser to the Bishop of Maidstone and a former Chairman of Reform

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