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  • Ben Lucas

Evangelical Self-confidence

Updated: May 16

It’s amazing how many people who attend Church of England churches tell me they’re “not really Anglicans,” or “not Church of England”. I don’t know how many in your local Baptist church would say they “weren’t really Baptists”!


What’s behind the assertion? It seems that many – ministers included – who happily identify as ‘Evangelical’ perceive there to be something un-Evangelical about the whole Church of England thing. They’re happy to attend this particular Evangelical Anglican church, but it’s the Evangelical rather than the Anglican bit they’re happy with. In other words, there can be a sense in the Church of England that being Evangelical and Anglican is somehow an odd mix.


This sense is nothing new. In the 19th century J. C. Ryle defended the place of Evangelicals in the Church of England. Indeed, he argued that the Church of England was fundamentally Evangelical. He wrote Light from Old Times to make this point: those who gave us the Church of England held Evangelical doctrines.


Ryle’s background is a defence of the place of Evangelicals in the Church of England in the face of the Oxford Movement’s claim that the Church of England was Catholic (if not quite Roman), and that the Reformation was an unfortunate moment in history.


Ryle’s answer was emphatic: Evangelicals were not only a valid part of the Church of England, but they were also the group in the Church of England that represented the very core of what they as the Church of England confessed. “The natural way to ascertain what views of religion are “Church views,”” says Ryle, “is to inquire what kind of views were held by our Church Reformers in the sixteenth century. In matters of doctrine are we of one mind with Cranmer, Ridley, Hooper, and Latimer? If not, our “Churchmanship” is of a somewhat peculiar and equivocal kind.” [1]


To put the argument the other way around, not only are Evangelicals not of a “peculiar and equivocal kind” but those who claim to be “Churchman” but reject the views of the Reformers are!


We’re accustomed today to think of Evangelicalism as arising out of the First Great Awakening. But when Ryle speaks of Evangelicalism he’s speaking of that doctrine that stands in continuity with the English Reformers: “People forget that these same Reformers are the genuine prototypes and predecessors of a “school of thought” which, however lightly esteemed by some, is certainly not the least useful and influential within the pale of the Establishment,—I mean the Evangelical School.” [2]


This is more than simply a point of interest for historians. If we allow that Evangelicals find their roots in the 17th century then there is some other ‘Anglican’ root Evangelicalism is grafted on to. If, however, we follow Ryle in seeing that Evangelicals are those for whom the Reformers are “the genuine prototypes and predecessors” then the Church of England is an Evangelical church!


Ryle calls us to an Evangelical self-confidence. To remember that the Church of England is a Reformed Church. That the “Evangelical School” is not an aberration but the direct descendent of the very Reformers who made the Church of England what it is. We should not think of being an Evangelical Anglican like someone who likes strawberry jam on their bacon sandwiches – alright for some if a bit eccentric. The very roots of the Church of England itself grew in the soil of the Evangelicalism of the English Reformers.


So, let us be confident that our church is just that our church. And because she is ours, she is worth fighting for.


Footnotes:

[1] J. C. Ryle, Light from Old Times, Fourth Edition, Illustrated (Chas. J. Thynne, 1903), p. vii.

[2] Ryle, p. xviii.

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Benjamin Lucas trained at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford and has an MA in Theology with the University of Wales. He is married to Emily and they have three children. He is the Associate Vicar at All Saints' Lindfield.


Views expressed in blogs published by the Latimer Trust are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Latimer Trust.

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