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Theology Thursday: Anglo-Catholic Origins

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Posted by Rob Brewis, 16 Jun 2016

‘That they worked to oppose the Tractarian emphasis is an indicator that they esteemed some thing or things much higher than the authority and reputation of the Church in society. Among such things that they esteemed higher were the church’s purity (…) and the spiritual unity of true Christian believers—across denominational lines.’

As evangelicals in the C of E we often feel that we are an embattled minority within the church and the nation, and therefore find ourselves with some justification entering into co-belligerence with Anglo-Catholics particularly through good initiatives like GAFCON.

Now whilst the times have changed greatly since the 1830s, the sense of threat is not new and neither is the desire to preserve our place in church and nation. In light of this Kenneth Stewart’s article on the developing and changing thought of J. H. Newman is an instructive and cautionary tale.

Stewart’s piece helpfully reviews Newman’s early thinking about the Church; the liberal, evangelical and dissenting reaction to his early tract writing; and finally why Newman both did and did not change his position in his conversion to Rome.

Stewart not only helps us understand the early development of Newman’s Anglo-Catholicism, but he also reminds us that Evangelicals then knew that beyond all else their fight was for the truth of the gospel and the purity of the true church – God’s elect. Consequently it reminds us that we too must not lose our voice against the errors of Anglo-Catholicism in midst of today’s battles.

Stewart, Kenneth J. “The Tractarian Critique of the Evangelical Church Invisible: Tracts 2, 11, 20 and 47 in Historical Context.Churchman 121, no. 4 (2007): 349–62.

Rob Brewis is associate minister at Christ Church Chadderton.

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