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The Message of the Oxford Movement to the Church Today

A Sermon by

The Right Reverend William T. Manning, D.D.

Bishop of New York

At the Service in observance of the Centennial Anniversary of the Oxford Movement held at the Stadium, Chicago on the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels, 1933.

Stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong. I Corinthians, X VI, 13.

THE Anglican Communion all over the world is observing this year the centenary of that great spiritual awakening which bears the name of the Oxford Movement. And at the invitation of the Bishop of this diocese you are assembled here tonight to share in that observance. In commemorating the Oxford Movement we do not forget, or undervalue, the importance of other great movements in the Church. The great Evangelical Movement, with John Wesley among its leaders, brought countless souls to the personal knowledge of Christ and to faith in him as their Redeemer and Lord. The Liberal, or Modernist, Movement is reminding us that the Christian believer must be no blind obscurantist, that our minds must be open to truth from every source, and that the Holy Spirit is ever guiding us into fuller understanding of the truth of Christ. These different movements are all needed in the full life of the Catholic Church, and all have their place so long as they are true to Christ himself. But tonight we give thanks to God for those great and holy men of the Oxford Movement who roused the Church to new life and whose influence was felt, and is still felt, throughout the whole of the Anglican Communion and far beyond.

The Oxford Movement did not introduce anything new into the Anglican Church. It was a call to churchmen and churchwomen to realize the meaning of their spiritual heritage as members of the One, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, and to claim the full help of the Catholic religion as this is embodied and given to us in the Book of Common Prayer. As the Archbishop of Canterbury expressed it the other day, the Oxford Movement awakened the Anglican Church "to the heritage of Catholic Faith, Worship, and Order, which it had never lost but which had been largely forgotten." The idea, which seems to exist in some quarters, that the name Catholic belongs only to a group, or party, in the Anglican Church is a most mistaken one. The Anglican Church itself holds and teaches the Catholic religion, and every man who accepts the teaching of the Prayer Book as to the Faith, the Apostolic Ministry, and the Sacraments, is a Catholic Churchman, though he is also a Protestant in the original sense of that word as protesting against departures from the Catholic Faith as held and taught in the early days by the whole undivided Church throughout the world.

What I want to make clear tonight is that those great principles of the gospel and the Church which the Oxford Movement emphasized are not the principles of any mere party in the Church but are the common heritage of all of us, and are the things upon which the very life of the Christian religion depends. What then are the great central principles for which the Oxford Movement stood, and what is the message of that movement to the Church today?

1. The Oxford Movement set itself with its whole strength, as the Evangelical Movement did also, to bring men to the knowledge of Christ, and to faith in him as their personal Saviour and Lord. And we need today a great awakening to faith in the Lord Jesus himself, not only as a moral ideal, but as a Person. There can be no real life in the Church without this. It is the lack of faith in Christ himself which has made the Christian religion for many people today a vague, and feeble, and unreal thing. If our moral ideals today are weakened, and confused, it is because our faith in Christ has grown dim. We have fallen into a cold, selfsufficient, merely intellectual way of looking at our religion, as though Christ were only an abstract idea, or a problem for us to discuss. The intellect must, of course, have its full rights, but mere intellectual knowledge of religious truth is not religion. The Christian religion is faith not only in the ideals of Christ, or in the teachings of Christ, but in Christ himself. This is what their religion meant to St. Paul and St. Peter, and St. John, and this is what it has meant to Christians ever since. It is conversion that is needed to make Christ real to us. Without this, without faith in Christ himself as a Person, the Christian religion dies; all its language and its beliefs become unmeaning. It is the great Evangelical message, the New Testament message of the Lord Jesus himself coming down out of heaven in all his love and power to save the world and to save each one of us, and of the nearness of each soul to God, which is needed to bring the people of our land back to religion.

2. The second great principle for which the Oxford Movement stood was belief in the Lord Jesus not absent from us in some far off sphere but still present with us, still continuing his work in this world, still speaking and ministering to us in his Church. This also is an essential and vital truth of the gospel. Christ's work in this world did not cease when he ascended into heaven. His own word to us is, "Lo, I am with you alway even unto the end of the world." And the Church here on earth, the Holy Catholic Church in which we declare our belief each time we repeat the creed, was founded by our Lord to be the means, and the visible evidence, of his continued presence and work among us. With all its sins and failures and divisions, the Church is still his Body in which he lives and works, and seeks to manifest himself to the world. It is this great fact of Christ's continued presence in his Church which our Prayer Book teaches from cover to cover.

The Oxford Leaders emphasized this truth of the Catholic Church and the Apostolic Ministry because they believed, as the Scriptures teach, and as our Prayer Book teaches, that the Church is the divinely constituted organ of Christ's presence and work in this world. And we see today the vital importance of this truth. To multitudes of Christians, Christ himself has become unreal because they have lost this great New Testament truth of his relation with his visible, sacramental Church here on earth. Without belief in the Church, divinely founded, and divinely commissioned, the gospel itself becomes less real. The developments in the religious world are showing clearly that where belief in Church and sacrament grows weak, men tend towards loss of faith in the Godhead of Christ, and in his gospel as a divine revelation. It will I trust be understood that I am not saying this in criticism, or in derogation, of any Church or body of Christians. I yield to no one in respect and esteem for my brethren in the ministry of the Protestant Churches, and from my personal fellowship with them I know that many of them are keenly aware of this tendency. I may say that in a space of little more than twelve months I have, in my official capacity, received applications for admission into the ministry of the Episcopal Church from sixteen ministers of different Protestant Communions, all of them men of standing and responsibility, some of them holding positions of much importance in their own denominations, and with scarcely an exception they have stated that they felt the need of a firmer doctrinal foundation and of a fuller expression of the sacramental truth of religion. The Catholic Church as a whole, and our own Church in her Prayer Book, give the sacraments their great central place because in them we feel the touch of Christ himself. It is this truth of Church and Sacrament which brings Christ close to men, which brings him into the midst of our common life, into the midst of our human need and sin, within the reach of the humblest and simplest soul on this earth, within the reach of such men and women as ourselves.

This is the reason that the sacraments hold their place in the Catholic Religion, and that the Church is so careful as to their proper administration. They are ordained by Christ himself, they are the signs and reminders of his presence among us, they are his own hands stretched out to help us, and, if we use them aright, they keep our relation with Christ himself a reality to us. We need today among all Christians a deeper realization of the great Scriptural truth that the presence of Christ in. this world is to be manifested in his Church, that the one Spirit is to be revealed in one Body, and "the one Father and the one Lord in the one Baptism and the breaking of the one Bread."

3. The third note of the Oxford Movement was its great and moving call to holiness of living.

The leaders of the Oxford Movement were brilliant scholars but their great power was the holiness of their own lives. The thing which stands out in their lives is their personal love for the Lord Jesus. No one can read the sermons of Pusey and Keble and Newman without seeing this. It was their personal devotion to Our Lord which gave these men their evangelical fervor, their true consecration, and their love for souls. It was this which led them to lay stress on sacramental confession, and frequent communion, and self discipline, upon prayer and intercession and meditation. The Oxford Leaders brought men to holiness of living because they brought them to know Christ as a Person. It is Christ who changes the lives of men. It is when men and women are converted that they see the meaning of sin, and the wonder of the Cross. It is when we stand in Christ's presence that we feel our need of repentance and confession and of forgiveness for our sins and failures. The lives of many Christians today are dull and uninteresting because they lack the thrill of spiritual reality, and of any real spiritual aim. We have been busy reforming others and have almost forgotten that we need to be reformed ourselves. We need in the Church a new and great call to holiness of living, and we must make this call to our younger people as well as to the older ones. A Church that is not calling every man and woman, and every boy and girl, to true holiness of life is failing in its most sacred trust. And some of us today seem afraid to mention the word holiness for fear we may be thought old-fashioned. Holiness does not mean morbidness, nor introspection, nor puritan narrowness, nor censoriousness. The first fruit of holiness is love, and the second is joy that very joy which is so missing from the lives of many of us. Holiness means likeness to Christ. And if the world is to be greatly influenced by the Church, the world must see more of the likeness of Christ in the clergy and people of the Church.

4. Last the Oxford Movement stood for belief in Christ as Saviour of the whole world and Lord of the whole of human life. And the Church today must awake to the full obligation of her social mission. This call has come to us with great power from many of our leaders. We must heed it more than we have done. The Lord Jesus came down from heaven to bring in the reign of justice and brotherhood and love, and it is for this that he still continues his work here in his Church. It is not the function of the Church to prescribe economic systems or forms of government, but it is the function of the Church to bring in the reign of Christ in this world, and his reign is not reconcilable with war, or sweatshops, or economic injustice, or racial prejudice and persecution, or with a blind and selfish nationalism. Today the Church has an opportunity such as perhaps was never before given to her. We all know what the situation is in the world at large and in our own land. With new power the Church must preach Jesus Christ as the Lord and Guide of human life in all its relations, in the factory, and the mine, and the bank, as well as in the Church. With her full strength the Church must bear her witness for the remedying of unchristian conditions in our economic and social life, and for the building of a better world.

Men and women of the Church! When John Keble stood up in the pulpit of St. Mary's, Oxford, one hundred years ago, he preached on "National Apostasy." The title of his sermon may well stir us to thought today. He and those who stood with him felt that the Church was facing a spiritual crisis, and it was. But we are facing now a far greater spiritual crisis in the world. Vast changes are taking place the outcome of which no one can foresee. The old order is giving place to a new. The question is whether the new world is to be built on materialism and force, or on those spiritual foundations which alone give man his freedom of soul and his true human life. An open and avowed anti-God propaganda is affecting conduct and opinion all over the world. Large sections of society today are definitely anti-Christian and actively hostile to the ideals of Christian morality. Here in our own land great masses of our people are far off from any religious belief or conviction. Religion has not the place in the homes of America that it once had. Surely it is time for the whole Christian Church to awake. The Episcopal Church in this land is not large, relatively to our population, but it has great influence, and great opportunity. The Episcopal Church can do great things for Christ if it will, and if we are faithful to our spiritual and Catholic heritage we may help to give strength and courage to other Christian forces in our land. A reduced or minimized gospel has no power to meet the need of the world. The Church is not here to express the beliefs of the modern man but to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ that the modern man may believe it. The crucial question today is not between those Christians who are called Catholics and those who are called Protestants, but between those who believe in the Lord Jesus as the One "Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, And was made man," and those who do not so believe in him.

The Anglican Communion is called to bear witness to a Catholicism which is wholly evangelical, which is not disproportionately concerned with religious externals, which has for its one aim the bringing of men and women to Jesus Christ, and which stands for full intellectual and spiritual freedom, a Catholicism which in the words of that great bishop and leader, Charles Gore, is "scriptural, liberal-spirited, and comprehensive, but always Catholic."

Go back then to your parishes all over our land and rouse them to fuller realization of those great principles of the gospel and the Church which are given to us in our Prayer Book. Go back and in this faith set your parishes on fire with love for God and man. Go home with the thought in your hearts that this time in which we are living is not a time for party divisions, nor for mere academic discussion of religious truth, but a time for the Church to bring to bear on the hearts and lives of men the whole power of the gospel of God.

"Stand fast" then "in the faith, quit you like men, be strong."

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