What became of the Wesleyan/Anglican Via Media? A friend of VMM, Rev. Kyle Cuperwich, brought an excellent article to our attention. This is itself a chapter from a book by William de Arteaga, a charismatic Anglican priest and scholar. He argues that, though the Wesleyan revival was viewed with suspicion by the Anglican establishment, the movement had the potential to renew something quintessential to its mother church:
“Although it was not noticed at the time, the Wesley brothers presented the Anglican Church with a grand opportunity to reestablish and refresh its central ideal, the via media. In the vision of Richard Hooker and the other founders of Anglicanism, the via media was the special grace of the Church of England. It was to take the best insights of Reformation theology, especially is evangelical stress on salvation by grace alone, and combine them with the spiritual disciplines and sacramental worship of the traditional church.”
This “best of both worlds approach” that was original to the Elizabethan Settlement was revivified by John and Charles, and then some:
“The Wesley brothers did exactly that, and more. They brought passion to both the Evangelical and Catholic sides of the balance. They were better Evangelicals than most Protestants, and, at the same time, better at the disciplines of the spiritual life and more loyal to sacramental worship than most Catholics.”
It’s also worth pointing out, vis-a-vis the Eucharist, that the Wesleys out-celebrated the Anglicans of their day. Most of us think of Anglicans today as very tied to sacramental worship, but in Wesley’s day most Anglicans only communed a few times a year, and only once was required by the church. This sacramental companion to the evangelical revival is something missed by many Protestant evangelicals today.
What became of the Via Media, though? Though Methodism, especially, in North America, would go on to have great success, the Via Media (re-)established by the brothers Wesley would be largely lost.
“On the other side, the Methodists, away from the Anglican Church, eventually lost the Catholic component of the via media. This is not to say that Methodism was in any way a failure, for the Nineteenth Century would see its spectacular triumph in America (next chapter), as well as its substantial growth and influence in the United Kingdom. But the Methodists at the end of the Nineteenth Century were far from what the Wesley brothers had planned or imagined. Most significantly there was a serious decline in sacramental worship as the Methodists began looking more and more like other Protestant groups.”
Thus, as we seek a middle way for today’s Methodists, we do well to remember the Via Media at its best: passionately evangelical and deeply Sacramental. Protestant in ethos and Catholic in practice. Preaching for conversion and praying for sanctification. As many in the ecumenical movement argued for decades, we go forward together by looking back, by recovering the best of who we are for the 21st century church.
What would that Via Media look like today? Where do you see it re-emerging?