I have often said that having a lively sense of church history can make living through turbulent times in the church today a bit more bearable, or at least put things in perspective. Lately, I’ve been re-reading Secor’s biography of Richard Hooker who, along with Thomas Cranmer, could rightly be said to be one of the main “prophets” of Anglicanism.
It is from Hooker and his “Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity” that many scholars derive the famous “three legged stool” of scripture, tradition, and reason as quintessenitally Anglican methods for discerning God’s will in the midst of the complexities of life. But it is his moderation and tolerance for those who differed, both on the “catholic right” and “puritan left” (or the “catholic left” and the “puritan right!”) of which I have been reminded in taking another look at Secor’s book.
Also the vitriolic Reformation climate which led to accusation and counter accusation, verbal (and sometimes physical) assaults, ex-communication, deposition, and legal wrangling in the courts. Sound familiar?
I don’t go as far as my friend Professor Robert Wright who calls the Reformation “the Great Mistake.” In fact I believe it was a tragic necessity, given the unwillingness of the Church of Rome to reform and renew itself from within. It was a tragedy, but a necessary tragedy and it has taken four hundred years for the Roman Church to begin to embrace some of the Gospel-based reforms pointed out by Luther, Calvin, and others.
We may well be living through such times again today. And, like in Reformation times, it is often difficult to see who is “on the side of the angels” in the current debates. Let us take a page out of Hooker’s book(s) and strive always to care for and understand our adversaries, knowing that only time and God’s ultimate judgment will sort some of this stuff out.
In the meantime, let us pray for “Hookerian” tolerance and moderation. And the true “via media.”