Throughout his long ministry, J.C. Ryle (1817-1900) had to defend evangelical (that is to say, gospel) truth on a number of fronts. One of these concerned the threat posed by the Ritualism of the Anglo-Catholic movement.
Ian Farley reports that in 1877 Ryle identified five key teachings of the Ritualists:
- They seek to turn the Communion Table into an ‘Altar’ and the Lord’s Supper into a ‘Sacrifice’ and encourage the idea of a real material presence of Christ’s body and blood, under the forms of the consecrated bread and wine.
- They encourage habitual auricular confession to a priest.
- They deny the sole authority of Scripture and add to it the voice of the ‘Church’.
- They scoff at the Reformers.
- They say that the doctrine of Rome and England is the same and pray for union between the two churches.
‘In addition to these doctrines held by most Ritualists’ (Farley continues), ‘Ryle also identified other beliefs and practices, such as holding there are seven sacraments; saying prayers for the dead; such practices as using Incense; using lights and vestments in the Communion Service, and reserving the Sacrament. These, however, he saw as less common.’
But how different in essence are evangelicalism and ritualism? Farley tells us that ‘Ryle’s definition of Evangelical Religion, given in 1867, was in practice a response to a speech by Archdeacon Denison defining High Church Religion (meaning the new Ritualist version), in November of the same year, the Archdeacon succinctly summarised Ritualism as holding that the Christian life began with regeneration in Baptism and was perfected by reception of the Real Presence of Christ in Holy Communion. And the Church had authority in matters of faith. When faced with the question, what must I do to be saved?, Ryle and Denison would give different answers. The controversy was not, therefore, about mere trappings but about the very foundations of the Gospel.’ (Emphasis added)
Ian Farley, J.C. Ryle, First Bishop of Liverpool, p64f.