Wednesday, March 31, 2021

The year was 1717. Today we remember the Bangorian Controversy and the questions it raised about church authority. The reading is from John Newton.

It is the 31st of March 2021. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at I'm Dan van Voorhis.

The year was 1717.

"No Bishops, no King." This is what King James I/VI told a group of concerned Puritans in 1604. James was one of the prime figures in the "divine right of kings" conversation, and you could probably gather that he was in favor of Kings having "divine rights." But for James and others, this conversation was not simply about the power of one man but rather the divine sanction of the entire hierarchical system.

But after that bloody 17th century, you might understand if some people were starting to wonder just how divine the whole hierarchy was. After the Glorious Revolution and the ouster of the Stuarts, the entire system was reset with William and Mary, followed by those famous Hanoverian Georges. The battle to watch in both the church and the state had to do with the "low church whigs" and the "high church tories."

The low church Whigs were for the decentralization of power, an ecumenical approach to theology, and most importantly: the removal of Bishops from the House of Lords. The High Church Tories were, well, the opposite (for our purposes).

Ok, so George Hickes is an English theologian on the "high church tory" side. In 1716 his "Constitution of the Catholic Church, and the Nature and Consequences of Schism" was posthumously printed. In it, he argues for the theological necessity of church hierarchy.

Next, the Bishop of Bangor Benjamin Hoadly replies with a tract arguing on the side of the low church whigs against the idea that church government is somehow ordained and regulated in the Bible. Ok, so this whole thing is called the "Bangorian Controversy" after the Bishop of Bangor. But here's where things get crazy: the King, George I, decided to take the side of the low church whigs and Benjamin Hoadly! The King asked Hoadly to respond to the controversy in a sermon, and it was on this, the 31st of March in 1717, that Hoadly preached a sermon entitled "The Nature of the Kingdom of Christ." He used the text "my kingdom is not of this world" from John 18 to argue against the idea of an ordained hierarchy. So you might think, why would the King want his authority weakened. Well, for one, it's a Hanoverian George. All three could be a little unpredictable. But for him, it was the Bishops in the House of Lords that he saw as consistently working at cross purposes to him. The Low Church whig side might hurt the King's power a bit, but it would get those pesky Bishops out of the way. The response to the sermon was bananas. Hundreds of tracts on the topic flew across the British Isles. It might be hard to find an issue in the history of the modern Church of England that stoked this much controversy. The High Church Tories responded to the King by calling a meeting of the Convocations of Canterbury and York. That group of Bishops and Clergy ruled against the King and Hoadley, so the King dissolved that body. Since the Reformation (but certainly before it, too), questions of autonomy and the individual would vex those arguing for tradition, hierarchy, and order. This is one of the fundamental questions in modern church history, and today we remember an expression of this in the explosive Bangorian Controversy and the sermon that kicked it off, Benjamin Hoadley's "The Nature and Kingdom of Christ," a sermon preached at the behest of King George on this the 31st of March in 1717.

The Reading for today comes from John Newton. This is his "The Happy Debtor"

Ten thousand talents once I owed,
And nothing had to pay;
But Jesus freed me from the load,
And washed my debt away.

Yet since the Lord forgave my sin,
And blotted out my score;
Much more indebted I have been
Than ere I was before.

My guilt is canceled quite I know,
And satisfaction made;
But the vast debt of love I owe,
Can never be repaid.

The love I owe for sin forgiven,
For power to believe,
For present peace, and promised heaven,
No angel can conceive.

That love of thine! thou sinner's Friend
Witness thy bleeding heart!
My little all can ne'er extend
To pay a thousandth part.

Nay more, the poor returns I make
I first from thee obtain;
And 'tis of grace, that thou wilt take
Such poor returns again.

'Tis well — it shall my glory be
(Let who will boast their store)
In time, and to eternity,
To owe thee more and more.

This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 31st of March 2021 brought to you by 1517 at The show is produced by Christopher Gillespie whose last name was deformed by the English from the Scottish: Mac Gille Easbuig, which means: "servant of the Bishop." The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis whose name means no such thing. You can catch us here every day, and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.

Subscribe to the Christian History Almanac

Subscribe to the Christian History Almanac

Subscribe (it’s free!) in your favorite podcast app.