Saturday, December 1, 2012

The English Reformation: Glass Half Empty? Pt. 1

​The topic of this and, hopefully, the next couple of posts is to take a brief look at the English reformation prior to Queen Mary’s ascension and the period following Queen Elizabeth’s enthronement. The question I pose is - How deep, thorough, and on-going was the English reformation during this period of time considering the trials that transpired over the next 100 years?

The conventional and yet, I would submit, questionable understanding of the years 1547 to 1553 under King Edward is that it was a time of robust and unimpeded advancement in reforming the Church's doctrine and practice. Certainly, to a significant extent, this was indeed the case. Over the course of those years Archbishop Thomas Cranmer had introduced a reformed liturgy of worship in the 1549 Book of Common Prayer and the subsequent and further reformed 1552 version. 1547 saw the first Book of Homilies published to aid the teaching and preaching of the Gospel doctrines in a country lacking clergy fluent in that very Gospel. A reformed confession of faith, The Forty-Two Articles, was completed in 1552 and issued in 1553. That confession embodied the redemptive teachings of Scripture emphasized by the reformers: Salvation of sinful man was by God’s grace alone, through faith only, in Jesus Christ and his finished work alone.

Yet, those Gospel advancements in England were far from universally accepted within Church and State. There had long been a persistant Roman Catholic party of bishops throughout Cranmer’s service as Archbishop which had resisted the reforms he sought under King Henry (1533-1547).  In his biography of Cranmer, Diarmaid MacCulloch chronicles a see-saw battle which ensued during those years between the Evangelicals under Cranmer and the Conservative Roman Catholic party in which bishop Stephen Gardiner played a prominent role. One could accurately describe the progress of the reformation in England during that time as a repetitive dance of three steps forward and two steps back. And unfortunately that frustrating struggle did not cease during the "golden" years following Henry’s death under the youthful King Edward.

In 1547, Cranmer then invited the influential Italian reformer Peter Martyr Vermigli to England to help further the English reformation. The next year, after accepting the offer, he was appointed Regius Professor of Divinity at Oxford.  Over the next five years, Vermigli played a role in which he made significant contributions to the reformation of the Church. Yet interestingly we find that, during his first year at Oxford, he wrote a letter to the Strasbourg reformer Martin Bucer (December 26, 1548) in which he expresses his concern regarding the "popish party" and their opinion of Archbishop Cranmer:
“... they till now were wont to traduce [Cranmer] as a man ignorant of theology, and as being only conversant with matters of government; but now, believe me, he has shewn himself so mighty a theologian against them as they would rather not have proof of, and they are compelled, against their inclination, to acknowledge his learning, and power and dexterity in debate.”
Peter-Martyr, hoping that Bucer would come to England to aid in the reformed cause, continues with his assessment of the situation under Edward visa-vis the reformation, and alludes to what is holding back further reforms:
“... because the magistracy, like yours, is altogether disposed to the reformation of the church, but with very few exception, does not possess the proper instruments for that object.”
Two things can be inferred from the above quotes. There was significant Romish opposition among many of the clergy and bishops to the reforms Cranmer sought. And there was a lack of able preachers and teachers to effectively dispose of that opposition by means of magnifying the evangelical truths of the Reformation. Later, in a letter to Henric Bullinger, Vermigli verifies this inference, as well as noting the problem he saw with some in the Church who wanted only partial reform:
“There are certainly very many obstacles; especially the number of our adversaries, the lack of preachers, and the gross vices of those who profess the gospel; besides the worldly prudence of some parties who think it quite right that religion should be purified, but are willing only to make as few alterations as possible; for feeling as they do, and thinking as civilians, they consider that any great changes would be dangerous to the state.”
This Erastian mindset, which existed among many of the Civil and Church rulers (i.e. how the reformation of the church posed a potential risk to the State), unfortunately had a dampening effect on reform not only during Henry’s reign but to a significant extent in that of Elizabeth’s.


  1. The same sort of thing goes on today under the title of "Evangelical." Anyone who dares to call Arminianism what it is--a semi-pelagian doctrine which is sympathetic to Rome--is labeled a "hyper-Calvinist." Anyone who consistently stands for the doctrine of predestination and unconditional election or even the propositional nature of Holy Scripture is labeled a rationalist or a fundamentalist. Don't you know that ecumenical concerns are more important than biblical truth?

    Compromising with "Evangelical" Anglo-Catholics and Arminians is the same as compromising with Rome since they have more in common with Rome than with the Reformation.


  2. Charlie: Rome is not Arminian. They have the free-will of Satan: a spiritual lawlessness that is beyond comparison; not liberty in Christ. An appointed Satanic reign that--like Satan--thinks it meets God's blessing. The Calvinist can be compared to Jew and Papist in that your legalism and piety is damned. Fatal is the Catholic, or Jew when professing God without Christ. As the Jew thinks the world revolves around him/her, we Protestants that are not Judaized(meaning actually of the faith) will revolve around Christ.

    As for the article: Here is a brief summary. The Counterculture established itself as popular culture and brought the Church with them. As for any Arminian concerns. That which is correctly pertaining to God and man will be, regardless of doctrine and intellectual debate.

    The Context of both: Judaizing and Ecumenism with Rome are also stumbling blocks.

  3. The Gospel is not legalistic or fatalistic, McGregor. It is free grace and a personal God who saves anyone who is saved. What is legalistic and pietistic is the Arminian semi-pelagianism which has more in common with Rome than with the English and Protestant Reformation. It's also why Augustus Toplady called Arminianism's doctrine of libertarian free will (an unbiblical rationalistic doctrine), "The Golden Idol of Free Will."

    Calvinism is Christianity in systematic form. There is nothing fatalistic about the fact that from the time of Abraham to the New Testament salvation came only through Israel. Today salvation comes only through faith in Jesus Christ and the preaching of His Gospel. A true visible church is one where the Gospel is rightly preached. Faith comes only by hearing and hearing by the Word of God. (Romans 10:17). And how shall they hear without a preacher? (Romans 10:7-17).

    The fact is that only the Calvinist has any motive to evangelize. Why? Because the Calvinist understand that those who have not heard the Gospel truly are lost. The only means God uses to save His elect is explicit faith in Christ. (Acts 4:10, 12; John 14:6). Article 18 teaches the same thing, by the way. Odd that Cranmer the English Reformers understood that pagan nations are lost unless we send missionaries while modern Arminians think that "they will be judged by the light they have." Romans 1:18-32 says that those who have not heard are without excuse.

    Mac, I appreciate your comments because they highlight the hypocrisy of Arminians:) You want to "pretend" to be tolerant of all Christians while openly attacking Calvinism as a "heresy." Why would you then be surprised when someone like myself would call you on your false teaching and your blatant hypocrisy? Why don't you go whole hog and join up with Rome? Toplady described Arminianism as a Jesuit plot meant to take the Church of England back to Rome. The Anglo-Catholics are blatantly in favor of re-uniting with Rome--on their own terms, of course.

  4. Arminianism, like Rome, is semi-pelagian.

  5. Charlie, you are semi-Pelagian.

    Calvinists are from college; Arminians are from faith.

    (How's that for a broad generalization?)

  6. Mac, that would be odd since I don't believe in "free will" and you do:) I'm a monergist, not a synergist. God alone saves.

  7. Even a plowboy who reads the Bible knows more than the pope or any Arminian.

  8. Synergy does not mean self-salvation; nor does any doctrine of Arminianism.

    You have free-will whether you like it or not.

    Frankly, synergy and monergism are combined, in my understanding.

    You are quite intellectual--as are many. Although it compliments Calvinism, in such a way, that wreaks of an ideal self, and wishful thinking.

  9. P.S.

    Charlie, you are oblivious to spiritual reality and history, outside of your mind and those books you venerate.