Preparing for General Synod, I had the blessing of reading Vaughan Roberts’ recent article in Churchman (Spring 2014) on “J.C.Ryle: Evangelical Churchman”*.
Roberts explained how Ryle, though a ‘thoroughgoing evangelical churchman’, valued the comprehensive national nature of the Church of England.
Although he would wish that all would fully embrace Evangelical views, he recognised that there were good people in all three schools – High, Low and Broad – who were agreed on ‘certain common fundamental principles’ and united in believing in ‘the Trinity, the Atonement, and the Inspiration of Scripture’. [p29]
Would that we could be agreed on these basics today. In fact, I’d love it if our business papers were filled more with discussion of such central topics.
Of course, I presume that in his day, Ryle did not mean novel reinterpretations of these doctrines either. Because Ryle saw great challenge from the false doctrine which was ‘eating out’ the heart of the Anglican church. Roberts summarises the dangers Ryle perceived this way…
- Ritualism and Romanism;
- Scepticism about the supernatural and the Word of God;
- Doctrinal indifferentism, which permitted every shade of view, so long as sincere.
It’s the third category, with its dislike of dogma, that produced Ryle’s famous ‘jellyfish Christianity” phrase, decrying a Christianity without bone, muscle or power!
Roberts tried to summarise Ryle’s advice to evangelical churchmen about how to respond under 6 headings.
- Don’t Abandon Ship – not while the denomination’s evangelical formularies and articles remain unaltered, unreeled and unchanged.
- Stay Keen – guarding one’s own heart and mind through focus on Christ and regular Bible reading.
- Keep Preaching Christ – that’s the first priority, not the battles in the wider denomination… though if the gospel wash;t being preached elsewhere, then this top priority means one might cross parish boundaries, even without episcopal approval if necessary!
- Be as Inclusive as Possible – not of endless diversities, but avoid extreme narrowness, and remember that saving grace is compatible with error in the head.
- Contend Against Error – keeping gospel truth in the churches is more important than to keeping the peace.
Once again, I believe Ryle provides good advice for evangelical Anglican churchmen today.
(* Scroll down on this link to access an audio version of Roberts’ article on Ryle.)