have always felt somewhat ashamed as an ordained Anglican minister for not
having read anything on the history of the Anglican church itself.
One day, many years ago, I trotted down to the library of a Bible
school (I shall not mention which!) to see if I could locate the book.
It could not be found under “Church history” or
eventually located the book in the section entitled “Cults &
Isms”. In the words of
Charlie Brown: “The theological implications are staggering!”
years down the road, this wayward Anglican suddenly woke up one morning to
decide that he did not want to lose that vast heritage of spirituality
inherent in historic Anglicanism. So
began my personal pilgrimage in the attempt to recover an Anglican
spirituality. Part of that
pilgrimage involved using the Prayer Book for private devotions, observing
the ecclesiastical seasons and fasts, and reading up on the Anglican
church. And this is where
Stephen Neill’s Anglicanism comes in.
Neill’s work is not exactly a dry chronicle in the way history texts are
generally perceived to be, it would still be presumptuous to think it
possible to sum up adequately a work of some 400 pages that spans as many
years. Hence I propose to pick
out gems of truth in this work that I find so incredibly stimulating.
Hopefully this would interest even non-Anglicans to take a dip into
this book by a first rate scholar, linguist, and missionary churchman.
chief purpose, as I believe would have been Neill’s as well, is to help
clear up misconceptions about Anglicanism.
I assume readers are familiar with the joke of how the entire
Anglican church is founded upon a misconception.
Well, more misconceptions have been spawned since, and the
resultant miscarriage of theological justice should be addressed.
is commonly believed that the Anglican church is a theological umbrella
for sundry belief systems, which it actually is or has been.
A negative view of this “via media” culture is that it is a
compromising church. Stephen
Neill sees it differently, and expresses it in his Preface thus:
“…this is a fellowship in which it is possible for me to proclaim all
that I believe to be true, and in which I am not required to teach
anything I believe to be untrue.” Would
to God this remains true of the Anglican communion for all time!
from being easy-going and compromising, historic Anglicanism is in fact an
exacting discipline. Again, in
Stephen Neill’s own words: “Anglicanism is a form of the Christian
faith that demands and expects a great deal from ordinary people (p.54).
How so? In explicating
the work of Thomas Cranmer, architect of the Prayer Book, Neill points out
that in no other church anywhere is the Bible read so regularly and
extensively as in an Anglican service of worship (p.54).
hallmark of Anglican worship (at least up until recently) has been the
Bible and the Prayer Book (p.130). And
the Prayer Book itself is a work of such theological density that, in
Neill’s mind, a course of sermons could be preached on the General
Confession alone (p.80f.). What
makes for the quality of the Book of Common Prayer (which I refer to as
the “Prayer Book”) is, of course, not only Cranmer’s theological
astuteness, but his mastery of the method of English prose (p.59f.).
What I find stimulating behind this defence of the Prayer Book is
really the idea that there is such a thing as language fitting for use in
the worship of Almighty God.
the chapter of the Reformation, Neill also affirms the identity of the
Anglican church as being solidly a part of this current.
“Show us anything clearly set forth in Scripture that we do not
teach, and we will teach it; show us anything in our teaching and practice
that is plainly contrary to Holy Scripture, and we will abandon it.”
other interesting line of thought in Neill’s work is the role and
effectiveness of the clergy. Neill
highlights Cranmer’s concern for the development of a devout, educated
and preaching ministry (p.85). In
the chapter on the 17th century, he points out the profligate
poet John Donne who, upon entering the ministry, preached with such
eloquence as to be unrivalled since (p.137)!
He also shows how one could form an impression of what Anglicanism
was from the life and poems of George Herbert.
the Wesleyan revival, Neill draws attention to the theological content of
John Wesley’s sermons as being rivalled only by Calvin’s Institutes.
are other facets of the church’s history we could have drawn attention
to, such as the impetus for the church's missionary endeavour.
For lack of space here, we shall have to leave them to the
his epilogue, Stephen Neill makes an assessment of trends in recent
decades (which is still surprisingly relevant for being two decades
behind!). He discusses the
influence of the charismatic movement, the rise of evangelicalism and its
impact on theological education, and ends with some fascinating
ruminations on the nature of truth and orthodoxy, as well as the
theological implications of liturgical changes.
conclusion is typically ecumenical. While
he appreciates the uniqueness of Anglicanism, he sees the ideal church as
one which exists in union, and endorses the South Indian experience as a
realistic goal worthy of emulation.
we agree with Neill is, I feel, not terribly important.
Personally, I am somewhat mixed.
As an Anglican who has wandered through many another sheepfold, I
appreciate the fellowship in the Gospel that I have shared with many other
churches and pastors. Yet I
cannot but feel that every Christian should be aware of the unique
distinctions of the local church or denomination to which he belongs.
What I find useful about
Neill’s work is that it has made me think more deeply about what
churchmanship (or church membership) means, and where the churches of
today are going.
In the wake of the rift caused by the endorsement of homosexuality by the Episcopal Church of USA, Anglicans really need to review their church’s heritage. Separation is clearly one option, but it may be too easy an option. The multiplicity of splinter churches in Singapore is evidence of a lack of theological clarity. Church leaders go separate ways when they disagree, taking their supporters with them. But are there not things about which we ought to agree and work together for? And are there not things about which we ought to stay and “fight” for, as an expression of our duty to “contend for the faith”? Might Stephen Neill’s Anglicanism help us think through what being a church is all about?
by Rev Ng Seng Chuan)
last week was conducted by Joan Teoh, a student at BGST, and she spoke on
the theme of “servanthood”.
began with some reminiscences about her Sunday School experience and her
involvement with NavTeens. In
essence, it was about a philosophy of excellence.
then recounted the turns of fortunes in her school life.
While she did well in primary school, her secondary school career
proved disastrous. Her turning
point came in her third year at secondary school when she was confronted
by a Christian teacher.
in life, Joan adopted for herself Jesus’ model of servant-leadership, as
epitomised in His washing of the disciples’ feet.
This was to be affirmed by Paul’s account of Christ’s taking on
of human flesh (Philippians 2). Her
goal, like Paul’s, was to be “crucified with Christ”, and she saw
Jim Elliott’s sacrificial work as being worthy of emulation.
ended with Joan sharing about her impending trip to the
Chapel next week on 3th December will be led by Dr Philip Satterthwaite.
R. Paul Stevens will also
The Christian Life and
A 50% rebate on the course fees will be granted for the 2 courses taken on
an audit basis.
more details, please contact us at
Koh May Fern 24/11
Carol Cheang 24/11
Lim Teck Sin 25/11
Mr Paul Kendagor 25/11
Henry Toi 28/11
Rebecca Ng 28/11
Song Young Hak 28/11
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