How Well Do We Know American Anglican History?

Posted on November 17, 2016

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maxresdefaultParticularly of the nineteenth century.

The evangelical wing of Anglicanism in the United States ceased to have any active influence by the end of that century. One hypothesis as to the cause is in its failure to respond to the doctrinal challenges of the Second Great Awakening within its ranks. Coming as it did in the same era as the Tractarian controversy, this aspect of early American Anglicanism is relatively unknown among high or low-church reformed evangelical Anglicans in the USA today.

We can be thankful that the corresponding period in American Presbyterianism is well-documented.

Presbyterian Charles Hodge, who attended Princeton Seminary with future Anglican bishops Charles Pettit McIlvaine and John Johns, explains why he opposed reunion with the New School Presbyterians in the Princeton Review of 1868. The doctrinal fall-out of the Second Great Awakening caused the 1837 schism between Old School and New School:

“However sound the present New-school ministry, this doctrinal article, as viewed by them, may and does provide for the toleration of errors utterly subversive of our standards and the Calvinistic system. There is nothing inconsistent in this. Men may be high Calvinists themselves and yet hold to very lax principles of subscription. the New-school ministry believe, but what they tolerate. President Dickinson was a high Calvinist in his own belief, and yet held that all should be tolerated as sufliciently accepting our standards, who hold the essentials, not merely of Calvinism, but of the Christian religion. The same is true of many in the Anglican, and American Episcopal Church.
…The question, therefore, is not what the New-school ministry believe, but what they tolerate, and, by the terms of the contract now under discussion, expect to bind the united church to tolerate through all time, or until such time as three—fourths of the body may change the constitution in this respect, and whether we ought, in fidelity to truth, righteousness, and unity itself, to consent to such a compact? [Italics mine]” [The Biblical Repertory and Princeton Review, Reunion with the New School, July 1868. p. 433.]

Hodge’s concerns were dismissed and the toleration of error eventually led to exactly the kind of changes to the constitution and resulting apostasy he feared.