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Pictures of W. H. Griffith Thomas, J. C. Ryle, and John Jewel.

Why I Am An Anglican: Jonathan Fletcher

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Posted by Ros Clarke, 14 Feb 2019

Jonathan Fletcher was the minister of Emmanuel Church, Wimbledon until his retirement in 2012.

Although nominally I was a cradle Anglican my Christian beginnings – conversion and nurture – came through Scripture Union house-parties, and what was then the Inter-Varsity Fellowship. My debt to both is incalculable. I had to become an Anglican by conviction, and I owe this to the influence of three great men – amongst many others.

W. H. Griffith Thomas (1861-1924)
He was Principal of Wycliffe Hall between 1905 and 1910 and then emigrated to Canada. When I was Confirmed at the age of fifteen my brother gave me Griffith Thomas’s The Catholic Faith: A Manual of Instruction for Members of the Church of England. (Is this typical of Confirmation presents given today?) Later I read his magisterial The Principles of Theology. My generation (students and ordinands in the 1960s) were not taught systematic theology as such, and to a certain extent we didn’t need to be, as we had learnt our systematics from The Book of Common Prayer. Griffith Thomas demonstrated that the Church of England taught theology through liturgy. This inspired a love for the Prayer Book – not so much for its language, although this is matchless, as for its doctrine, not least for its theology of the Lord’s Supper. Again and again as I read the B.C.P. – whether it is the Collects, the Visitation of the Sick – and then go on to the Ordinal, I marvel afresh at the genius and wisdom of Cranmer and the Reformers, and want to stand shoulder to shoulder with them.

Bishop J. C. Ryle (1816-1900)
Early on at University I was introduced to the writings of J. C. Ryle. (A recent commentator on 2 Kings said ‘One of the kindest things my father did was to loan (and eventually give me) his set of J. C. Ryle’s Expository Thoughts on the Gospels. He was fond of saying “Anything Ryle writes is good!”) The first work I read was Knots Untied explaining – amongst other things – the Church of England’s doctrine over against Rome. Because of the presence at that time of a strong Student Christian Movement we had to understand and be able to defend evangelicalism. God, it seems, often raises up heresies in order to enable us to think through and understand the truth more clearly. The other book of Ryle that was formative was his Christian Leaders of the Eighteenth Century. If Knots Untied showed me why I had to be a Protestant and not a Roman Catholic (Ryle’s exegesis of the Thirty-Nine Articles, like Griffith Thomas’s, is masterly), Christian Leaders showed me why I was Church of England and not non-conformist. Ryle clearly had great sympathy with his non-conformist contemporaries but the potted biographies of Church of England ministers provided clear evidence of how we could be in the Church of England both without compromising and being very influential. Fortunately in those days there was none of this modern talk about ‘strategy’, but what Grimshaw, Romaine, Berridge, Venn Walke, Toplady and Rowlands did was to go to apparently unimportant and ‘un-strategic’ parishes and made them strategic by a fearless and faithful Bible ministry. It is probably fair to say that I regard myself as ‘Church of England’ rather than ‘Anglican’. Cranmer cannot have conceived of archdeacons and Harmoniums being exported throughout an empire which at that stage did not exist. What he helped to create was good for England but not necessarily appropriate in other parts of the world. Its doctrine – yes; but not necessarily its polities.

John Jewel (1522-1571), Bishop of Salisbury
Perhaps a surprising name – as his influence was tangential! My university Christian Union was strictly and healthily non-denominational. I am not sure that J. C. Ryle’s books were allowed on the extensive – and permanent – bookstall in the Northgate Hall. So, once a term Anglican evangelicals (for such some of us were) – and not evangelical Anglicans (the difference is crucial) – met in the Bishop Jewel Society to hear a visiting speaker address the specific and contemporary issues facing Anglican evangelicals. This showed us that Anglicans didn’t just belong to that previous generation of Ryle and Griffith Thomas. The Bishop Jewel society was particularly important at that time. As is happening today, a number of young evangelicals who might naturally have been inclined towards Anglican Ordination were losing confidence in the Church of England. In fact, in terms of ordinands, mine was an almost missing generation. This was in no small part due to the publication of Bishop John Robinson’s Honest to God. If a bishop of the Church of England could expound what amounted to practical atheism could we in all conscience align ourselves with such a denomination? Visiting evangelical clergy, speaking term by term at the Bishop Jewel Society, reinforced the convictions of Cranmer, Ryle and Griffith Thomas so that, with a clear conscience, I believed that the Church of England historically, legally and theologically belonged to me and I to it. The goal posts have indeed shifted, but I’m still playing on the original pitch.

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.

Although the Bishop Jewel Society had fallen in abeyance, we are delighted that it was re-launched in 2018, with Lee Gatiss speaking at its first event.

Ros Clarke is Associate Director of Church Society and Course Leader of the Priscilla Programme

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