By the Rev Canon William Odom
The Church Bookroom (Published Prior to 1923)
"It is quite certain that we, whether ministers or people, clergy or laity, can only do God's work in this Church of England by adhering firmly and consistently to the principles of our Church as laid down at the glorious and blessed epoch of the Reformation." - Dean Hook.
WHAT does the Church of England stand for? Amid much of unrest, change, and controversy in religious matters, Churchmen ought to know what it is they believe, and why they believe it. The Church of England has often been at a disadvantage owing to the lack of sound and definite teaching amongst its members respecting its principles, history, and doctrines. “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.” Many decline the Apostle’s wise counsel, and refusing to think for themselves, blindly follow the lead of others, like the man who regulates his watch by a certain clock without troubling to enquire whether the clock is right or not.
First, it is of vital importance to be a sincere Christian, apart from which it is not possible for anyone to be a true Churchman.
WHAT IS IT TO BE A CHRISTIAN? Profession does not make one. A Christian is one who believes in Christ as his Saviour, loves Him as his Friend, and serves Him as his Master. A true Christian has been happily described as “one who lives By Christ, With Christ, Under Christ, To Christ, and For Christ.” It is a life in Christ—a life of righteousness, a life of worship, a life of obedience, a life of service. Its ideal, its supreme rule, is, “Be Christ-like.”
Having been made children of God by adoption and grace, and “grafted into the body of Christ’s Church” by Holy Baptism, it is essential that we should be identified with some branch of the Church on earth. With us are many religious bodies, many, unhappily, the outcome of division and self-will. These all differ more or less in their teaching, and therefore cannot be equally Scriptural nor equally safe. Some may say: “Oh! it matters little to what body we belong—all are striving for the same end.” But the thoughtful will not speak thus.
Liberty of choice involves responsibility, duty, and decision. We should aim to be identified with that branch of Christ’s Church which is most Scriptural in doctrine, most Apostolic in practice, and best commended by the righteous lives and unselfish loving service of its members. “By their fruits ye shall know them.”
Every Christian disciple may not be able to state fully the nature and grounds of his Creed, but he ought to be in a position to give sound reasons for his faith and hope. If he be a Nonconformist he should be able to adduce reasons for his Nonconformity, and if a Churchman to say why he is one.
The craving for novelty, the tendency to schism and separation, and the “undenominational teaching” of the day, so defective in many respects, are much to be deplored as injurious to the Church of Christ. For myself I heartily adopt the words of Bishop Jacob (late of St. Albans), who says : “I have no sort of sympathy with what is called ‘undenominational religion.’ It has a vague indefiniteness about it which I fail to grasp. I understand an honest Wesleyan, Baptist, or Congregationalist, as I understand an honest Churchman. Be thorough, my friends, whatever you may call yourselves.”
I am a Churchman not because I look upon the Church of England as faultless, or regard it as the only true Church. Whatever may be the defects, its loyal children will earnestly seek to amend them. They will love their Church, and firmly hold to and defend its distinctive principles as set forth in the Book of Common Prayer and the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion.
The derivation and varied applications of the word “Church” should be carefully noted. In the New Testament the Greek word translated Church (Ekklesia) signifies an assembly or congregation, but our English word comes from the Greek Kuriakon—“belonging to the Lord.”
We find the word Church used to describe (I) a building set apart for the worship of God; (2) Christians in a particular place, as “the Church at Jerusalem “ (Acts viii. I); (3) a body of Christians holding the same doctrines and observing the same rights—e.g., the Church of England, the Church of Rome, etc.; (4) the whole Visible Church—i.e., all who “profess and call themselves Christians”; (5) the Spiritual Church (sometimes called the Mystical or Invisible) embracing sincere believers of all times, the “mystical body of Thy Son, which is the blessed company of all faithful people” (Communion Service).
Churchmen declare their belief in “one Catholic and Apostolic Church.” The Church is called Apostolic, not because of any mere historical succession of ministers, however important that may be, but because it rests upon Apostolic foundations, proclaims Apostolic truth, and is charged with an Apostolic mission.
The Church is Catholic or Universal because its doctrines and principles are diffused throughout all ages and places, in contrast to the Jewish Church, which consisted of one nation; and so in our Prayer Book it is designated “the Holy Catholic Church,” “the Holy Church Universal,” “the Holy Church throughout all the world.” Hence in the prayer for the Church Militant we ask God “to inspire continually the Universal Church with the spirit of truth, unity, and concord.”
Bishop Jeremy Taylor says : “This Church is Catholic—that is, it is not confined to the nation of the Jews, as was the old religion; but it is gathered out of all nations, and is not of a differing faith in differing places, but always did, doth, and ever shall profess the faith which the Apostles preached, and which is contained in this Creed, which whosoever believes is a Catholic and a Christian, and he that believes not is neither” (“Exposition of the Apostles’ Creed”).
Moreover, the Church of Christ is One, possessing the note of Unity. Not uniformity, but Unity. “There is one Body.” During the present imperfect stage differences of opinion, often so perplexing and deplorable, on certain points arise, but these are often more apparent than real. True believers “are all one in Christ Jesus.” They acknowledge one Divine Head, follow one Rule of Faith, observe the same two great Sacraments, and witness the same Eternal Gospel.
“Elect from every nation,
Yet one o’er all the earth,
Her charter of salvation,
One Lord, one Faith, one Birth;
One Holy Name she blesses,
Partakes one Holy Food,
And to one hope she presses
With every grace endued.”
The Church of England claims to be a true and living Branch of that Holy Catholic Church which is “built upon the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner stone” (Eph. ii. 20). It teaches that “the visible Church of Christ is a congregation of faithful men, in the which the pure Word of God is preached, and the Sacraments be duly ministered according to Christ’s ordinance in all those things that of necessity are requisite to the same” (Art. XIX.).
We see, then, that the Church of Christ belongs to earth as well as to heaven, and must be surveyed, not only as an invisible or spiritual communion of saints, but also as a visible community, with defined doctrines and duties, duly appointed officers, divinely ordained Sacraments, and other means of grace—“Christ’s Church Militant here in earth.”
The Church of England, as Archbishop Benson affirmed, is at once “Catholic, Apostolic, Reformed, Protestant.” Pre-eminently characterized by the two marks of Apostolic Order and Evangelical Doctrine, it must be judged by its Prayer-Book and Articles, its history and its work.
The sort of churchmanship to be recommended is not a negative churchmanship, as though it signified little to which communion you belong; not a mere nominal churchmanship, which has no reality about it; not an extreme churchmanship, which would make the Church a kind of second Saviour to us; but a churchmanship which is intelligent, hearty, earnest, and decided—which makes a bold stand upon certain definite principles, and honestly desires to carry them out without any compromise of truth, but in a loving Christian spirit.
Our Church declares that “Christ’s Gospel is not a Ceremonial Law (as much of Moses’ Law was), but it is a religion to serve God, not in bondage of the figure or shadow, but in the freedom of the Spirit; being content only with those ceremonies which do serve to a decent order and godly discipline, and such as be apt to stir up the dull mind of man to the remembrance of his duty to God, by some notable and special signification, whereby he might be edified” (Preface to the Prayer-Book).
The Church of England is wonderfully comprehensive, but this comprehensiveness has its limits and, need we say, also its dangers. Controversy in the present disturbed and divided state of our Church is inevitable, but controversy is better than indifference so long as we are careful to speak the truth in love.
The reasons given for my Churchmanship may not all be of equal importance, but all are of value when rightly considered.
>> Part I - I am a Churchman because the Church of England Assigns Absolute Supremacy to Holy Scripture as the One Rule of Faith and Practice.