Comparison of Anglicanism to Purely Reformation Theology Research Paper

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Anglican and Reformation Theology

Comparison of Anglican and Reformation Theology

Among the bewildering number of Christian theologies, the Reformation and Anglican varieties have had an immense influence through the centuries. Begun around the same time in the sixteenth century's response to the dominant Roman Catholicism, both of these schools of thought and faith deviated in significant ways from the mother church. Anglican theology grew partially out of, and was heavily influenced by, developments on the continent. Avis (2007) writes, "When the English reformers disclaimed any intention of promulgating new doctrines this did not mean that they did not have an argument over doctrine with the Church of Rome" (p. 42). After claiming that Anglicans hardly revised the Christological and Trinitarian dogmas, he goes on to say, "Issues concerning salvation, the sacraments, the ministry and authority were the storm centres of Reformation controversy" (Avis, 2007, p. 42). The same was true of the continental Reformation, which began with Luther's Ninety-five Theses (1517) tacked to the Wittenberg church door. Out of these theses flowed the whole of Reformed theological adjustments to the tradition, which caused quite a radical transformation in church life.Download full
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TOPIC: Research Paper on Comparison of Anglicanism to Purely Reformation Theology Assignment

On the other hand, Anglicanism proposed something closer to a middle way between Reformation and Catholic theologies. The beginnings of Anglicanism are often traced to the work of Thomas Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury from 1532 to 1556. Influenced by continental Reformers, he gave the English reformation its own unique character. According to R.T. Beckwith, it was Cranmer who got authorization for the English translation of the Bible, created the unique English liturgy of the Book of Common Prayer (1552), and authored the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion (which were completed in 1571) that constitute the Anglican confession of faith (1988, p. 21). Beginning with these texts, the Church of England developed its own brand of religious reflection and practice. The liturgical Book of Common Prayer was taken to be the fundamental expression of Anglican doctrine. Its authority for Anglicans rests on the notion of lex orandi lex credenda, "the law of prayer is the law of belief."

This essay aims to compare these two branches of the Christian theological tradition, focusing on their early formulations in the sixteenth century. It will highlight some of the biblical grounding for each position by drawing attention to the key ways in which scripture was understood in support of their positions. By formulating this comparison, it should become clear how purely Reformed theology and Anglican theology tackled the issues of scripture, salvation, sacraments, and the trinity. This approach will give a general idea of the biblical sources of authority, forms of worship, and belief structures that were used to found the two positions.


For the Reformers (Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Bucer and others), the Bible alone was authoritative. This is the important doctrine of sola scriptura. The status of the churchman as historically continuous with a tradition was not as relevant for them. The church was founded on the gospel. Luther uses Hebrews 11:1 to say that the church cannot be identified by its outward characteristics since it is invisible. Furthermore, it is founded on preaching and proclamation. Luther based his view of preaching on Romans 10:17. As George (1988) says, "Luther did not invent preaching, but he did elevate it to a new status in Christian worship" (p. 91). This was crucial in the turn toward vernacular and toward the spoken and heard, rather than the read, text.

Both Reformers and Anglicans shared a view from scripture that allowed the vernacular to take hold. In the first place, God commands all to read the Scriptures (Dt. 31:11ff., 17:19ff.; Jer. 36:6ff.; Jn. 5:39, 20:31; Rom. 15:4). Furthermore, the word of God is a spiritual sword for the believer's protection (Eph. 6:17). 1 Corinthians 14:6ff. implies that church language should be in the common tongue. Moreover, these theologians point to texts asserting that people should be instructed and wise, which was interpreted as a need for them to be able to read (Col. 3:16; 2 Cor. 8:7; 1 Cor. 14:5; Phil 1:9; 2 Pet. 1:5). Finally, they point out that Christ taught in own mother tongue. As a result, the Reformers and the Anglicans believed firmly in changing the language into the vernacular and making the biblical text accessible to the masses.

Tradition, however, was not wholly rejected. Luther wanted independence from the Catholic church, but he did not despise previous tradition. Speaking of the creeds, which were neither supplements to scripture nor authoritative texts, George (1988) says, "Rather they protected the true intention of Scripture against heretical deviations" (p. 82). Thus Luther was able to affirm creeds, conciliar decisions, and the sayings of the church fathers if they were judged to be scriptural. At the same time, Luther had his own little canon within the canon. Reardon (1981) says, "Of supreme value, he judges, are St. John's gospel and the same writer's first epistle, the epistles of St. Paul, especially Romans, Galatians and Ephesians, and the First Epistle of Peter" (p. 69). The epistle of James was suspect as it had less of gospel and more of law about it.

The radical reformers went farther in rejecting traditional interpretations of scripture based on this principle. McGrath (1999) argues that the magisterial reformers (non-radicals like Luther and Calvin) did not elevate private judgment above corporate judgment in matters of scriptural interpretation (p. 156). That would have led to chaos. Rather, they were less consistent and allowed the influence, for example, of the Church Fathers since they thought them to be developing a scripture-based theology. McGrath sees this resulting in doctrinal conservatism. Nonetheless, there was a renewed emphasis on returning to the very words of the text with greater or lesser variations of reliance on traditions.

The actual interpretive methods used to approach scripture were less significant than the idea that everyone had the right to interpret its teachings. Interpreting Joshua 6:1-20, Luther prophetically summons the Christian to interpret the text. Later, however, the variance of interpretations led to disputes and political revolts. Most reformers came to believe that one could only interpret scripture correctly if one had fluency in the original languages. McGrath (1999) states, "It is one of the ironies of the Lutheran Reformation that a movement which laid such stress upon the importance of Scripture should subsequently deny its less educated members direct access to that same Scripture, for fear that they might misinterpret it" (p. 165).

Despite its creedal tradition, Anglicanism likewise stressed the fundamental authority of scripture. This aligns Anglicanism with the Reformation principle. Hughes (1965) writes, "This is evident not only everywhere in the writings of the Reformers and in the Book of Common Prayer, but also in the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion of the Church of England, in which the comprehensive character of the scriptural principle is amply illustrated" (p. 19). Hughes cites statements showing how these English reformers (like Cranmer, Jewel, and Ridley) believed that God is the author of the scripture. While mediated through human language, it can be taken as immediate voice of God. This view is based on Hebrews 1:1 and 2 Peter 1:21. These "declare respectively that is was God who spoke to the fathers by the prophets and that holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit" (Hughes, 1965, p. 27). To shore up the notion that the scriptures are the testimony of the Holy Spirit to Christ, texts from John (5:39; 14:26; 15:26) were utilized. As to the practical profitability of scripture, 2 Timothy 3:16 was used.

According to Cranmer's Article 20, scripture constraints ecclesiastical authority, subordinating it to the word of scripture. It declares that "it is not lawful for the Church to ordain anything that is contrary to God's Word written, neither may it so expound one place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to another" (Thomas, 1976). In effect, this article declares that the church cannot abuse scripture, and that its primary power is over the rituals and controversies of faith, which it is to negotiate by reference to the scriptures. Scripture rules individual faith, whereas the church rules the administration of ceremonies.

With respect to interpretation, the Anglicans advocated the literal sense, which was also the spiritual sense. Allegory was thrown out. Scripture was sufficient, inspired, and authoritative, as shown by 2 Timothy 3:16-17, 2 Peter 1:21, and 1 Corinthians 14:37. In addition, Cranmer's Article 7 considers the Old and New Testaments a single non-conflicting unity in which the old law and promises are applied and given new expression in the new (Thomas, 1976). But Anglicanism asserted reason as an aid to interpretation. This contrasts slightly with the Reformers. The Anglican Richard Hooker thought that reason was the human tool needed to understand its secrets and benefits. Eppley (2002) states, "In this manner Hooker claimed that in all but the most extraordinary circumstances reason, empowered by the holy spirit, was the highest standard to which Christians should turn when interpreting the Bible" (p.… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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