Church Parties As Apologists -- By: Francis Wharton

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 037:147 (Jul 1880)
Article: Church Parties As Apologists
Author: Francis Wharton

Church Parties As Apologists

Rev. Francis Wharton

My object in the following pages is not to engage in the controversy as to church parties in which Mr. Gladstone, Mr. Lecky, and Cardinal Newman have recently taken part. What I have to say concerns rather Christianity in general than the church of England, as I desire to speak mainly of parties as arising from causes not peculiar to that church, but common to all Christendom. If these parties have disturbed the current of that church, or impeded its progress, such also, it may be shown, has been their action on other churches. Of the other hand, if the collision of these parties from time to time has not impaired the vitality of the church of England, so has it been, as we will see, with other churches in which the same parties have appeared. My purpose, therefore, on entering on this discussion is not partisan, nor is it for the purpose of attaching any particular credit to the church of England. I desire to view the subject as a basis for apologetics; and my contention is that the fact that the surface of the Church, viewing the Church as in this sense convertible with the aggregate of the orthodox churches of the Reformation, has been from era to era, without the dissolution of its integrity, exposed to a succession of vehement party torrents, enables us to ascribe something like perpetuity to its faith. Or, assuming, as I shall show that we have a right to assume, that party standards are the barriers erected by the Church to oppose some threatening heresy, then we may say, that when a church erects such barriers, first on one side, and then on another, from time to time moving its forces from one to another of these barriers, then

we may infer a centralized, persistent, and vital energy, by which these barriers, superficially opposite as they may appear to be, are manned, and by which the whole system is animated. Perhaps I might extend this proposition so as to embrace the whole of Western Christianity. The errors of the Roman Catholic church have arisen from the moving of the metropolis into the outpost; from her adopting as sites of essential truth, advanced fortresses she erected, sometimes very indiscreetly, to repel some heresy, acknowledged to be such by ourselves. But be this as it may, I conceive that the existence of a succession of parties, sweeping the surface without decomposing the substance of the Church, may be used apologetically, as showing its essential unity, ubiquity, and perpetuity. As such, I purpose to consider church parties in the present essay.

I. The first party that asserted itself, so far as concerns the Protestant side of the church, after the inauguration of the Reformation, was the Dogmatic. There was a reason for su...

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