In the sixteenth century, the Christian Church reformed. Under leaders like Calvin and Luther, the Church sought to reclaim the biblical purity of the Apostolic Gospel. This Reformation was a movement that sought to exalt God and His Gospel above all things and to declare humanity’s absolute dependence upon God’s grace for every good in this life and the next. The reformers also sought to have the Church shaped always and in all places by the Holy Scriptures, which they understood to be the only sufficient rule of faith and the final authority for how we may glorify God and enjoy Him in Jesus Christ.
The Anglican Church was the unique branch of this Reformation movement in England. Protestant leaders like Thomas Cranmer, John Jewel, Thomas Becon, Hugh Latimer, and Nicholas Ridley were the architects of the Anglican Church, and they were reformers who were fully sympathetic with the Reformation on the Continent. Accordingly, the theological statements that they produced, such as the 39 Articles, the two Books of Homilies, the Ordinal (the liturgy for ordaining ministers), and the Book of Common Prayer, were shaped decisively by the broadly reformed commitments of the sixteenth century. Therefore as Anglicans, our theology proper (our understanding of God), our anthropology (our understanding of humanity), our soteriology (our understanding of salvation), and even our ecclesiology (our understanding of the church and its orders) share a strong family resemblance with other reformed confessions.
And this means that we are also catholic. Catholic is not a word that belongs only to the Church of Rome. Catholic is an adjective that means “universal”, and by identifying ourselves as catholic, we mean that the Anglican Church stands in unity with the one church that Paul speaks about in Ephesians 4: “There is one body, and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” Reformers such as Luther and Calvin, or Bucer and Bullinger, all desired to be catholic Christians standing in unity with the long line of true, apostolic, and faithful confession of the Gospel that continued unbroken across the centuries, even when the Church was routinely afflicted with what the Apostle Paul called the empty deceit of human tradition. Luther in the sixteenth century knew that he professed the same Gospel as his fourth century brother in the Lord, Gregory Nazianzen, as well as with the twelfth century preacher, Bernard of Clairvaux; it was therefore Luther’s joy to understand himself as a true catholic, a term which, as historian Gordon Rupp has written, is always the more enduring whenever we come to define ourselves as Christians.
The liturgy, therefore, which Anglicanism produced (the form and shape of our services: its prayers, readings, creeds, and sacramental rites) reflects this catholic and reformed identity. For those who are unfamiliar with a liturgical service, it may take some time getting comfortable with the amount of reading in a service, and even with what may seem at first like needless repetition. But the beauty of liturgy is that it gets the congregation involved so that the people of God are not mere spectators, but active participants in the worship service. And more importantly, the liturgy sets us in a godly, biblical rhythm, continually pointing us to and grounding us in the things that are really important. And these important Gospel truths haven’t changed over the past two millennia. Truly, there is something deeply stirring when we participate in a liturgy that has been prayed and proclaimed, in places, for nearly two thousand years. What a joy to be part of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church! This liturgy helps us, in the unity of the faith, to make much of God: to glorify Him and enjoy Him forever. Alleluia!
Out of this reformed and catholic Christianity came the evangelical movement. This is a term that needs to be carefully defined today, at a time when it can mean so many different things. The evangelical stream in the Church of England – in its best moments – sought to recall and to herald this reformed catholicity. Puritan ministers like William Perkins, John Preston, Richard Sibbes, and William Gurnall in the seventeenth century, the revival preacher George Whitefield and the godly pastor-theologian Augustus Toplady in the eighteenth, the missionary strategist Henry Venn and pastor and hymn-writer John Newton during the latter half of the eighteenth and beginning of the nineteenth, Bishop J.C. Ryle whose long and faithful ministry throughout the nineteenth culminated at the beginning of the twentieth, and our own theologian J.I. Packer, teaching us to know God in the twentieth and still going strong in the twenty-first century, all of these leaders are rich examples of the godly and fruitful pattern of Anglican evangelicalism: catholic and reformed.
At Christ Church Kelowna we are unashamedly catholic, unashamedly reformed, and unashamedly evangelical. We believe that Anglican evangelicalism, in its catholic and reformed character, powerfully sets forth Jesus Christ. And that is what we want to do here. Built upon the Word, proclaiming the Word, making a people of the Word, we strive to proclaim the unsearchable riches of Christ.
“For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be glory forever. Amen.”