Despite the protestations of my Anglo-Catholic sisters and brothers, I am very comfortable calling Anglicanism a Protestant denomination. It may not have been true in 1549, but by the time Thomas Cranmer published the 1552 Book of Common Prayer, he had spent entirely too much time with Martin Bucer, and the Protestant Reformation of Continental Europe had made its way across the English Channel. Thankfully, however, Cranmer’s affinity for Eastern Orthodoxy, his coming of age under the rule of Henry VIII’s strongly Roman Catholic thumb, and the tumultuous nature of the monarchy in 1550s England from Protestant Edward to Roman Catholic Mary to Settlement-minded Elizabeth, kept the worst of the Continental influences, like Calvin and Zwingli, from taking Anglicanism beyond being Protestant and becoming fully Reformed.
My language in the previous paragraph betrays the fact that I am grateful for our avoidance of some of the excesses of Continental Protestantism, I do realize that there are times that Anglicans find their theology lacking some fullness because of it. One such example came to mind to me this morning as I considered the second half of Peter’s Confession which we will hear read on Sunday. Last week, Peter declared Jesus as “the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” This week, just seconds after that declaration, Peter’s mind has already been drawn away from things heavenly and become focused on human things. There might not be a better example of humanity’s utter depravity, a topic Episcopalians avoid like the plague, than Peter’s immediate about face in this moment.
As faithful Christians, we strive to follow the will of God. We engage in prayer, we read the Bible, we interact with other disciples, all in the hopes of discerning God’s will for ourselves and for the world God has created. Like Peter, we have moments when we nestle into the bosom of God, and there we find revelation. The mind of God is slowing revealed to us, again and again, as we return to the Father. Again, like Peter, it seems we almost immediately slip away again. We get prideful about how our own work brought us to deeper understanding. We get nervous that God might call us to do something we don’t want to do. We get envious of those who seem to hear God more clearly. No matter how it happens, it seems that the utter depravity of humankind is distinctly highlighted the closer we get to the heart of God.
It seems to me that we should name this condition. It is in ignoring it or being afraid of it, that we give our proclivity toward sin its power. Instead of avoiding the reality of our sinfulness, what Calvin called our “total depravity,” we should see it, name it, and welcome God’s help in moving beyond it. While Episcopalians ever get comfortable with our total depravity? I doubt it. Reformed Christians, we are not. However, the more we do come to terms with our sinfulness, the more we are able to lean into God’s grace by taking up our cross, laying down our depraved lives, and following Jesus.