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Sects and Religious Orders

By Allan Lancashire

In January 2000 a meeting was held at Ampleforth College of nearly all the Anglican bishops and leaders of the Methodist Church to discuss the possibility of uniting and creating a new church. "Methodists would operate as an 'order' within it rather like the Franciscans and Jesuits do in the Roman Catholic Church and in the same way as Methodists themselves began in the Church of England in the 18th century", reported The Times (June 24th 2000). These comments would seem to give support to a thesis of Christopher Dawson.

In his book, The Historic Reality of Christian Culture, Dawson claims that there is a close relation between the different forms of monasticism and different forms of Christian culture. "We can distinguish a number of different forms of monasticism, each of which is typical of a particular phase in the development of Christian culture", he writes. In particular, he refers to the Egyptian and Celtic forms of monasticism; Benedictine monasticism; the Friars - the Franciscans and Dominicans; the Jesuits.

"Of course", Dawson continues, "this criterion excludes the culture of Protestant Europe. Nevertheless, the same spiritual forces which produced monasticism remained active in the Protestant world. And accordingly, if we wish to find the sociological analogies of the religious orders in the Protestant world we must look to such organizations as the Anabaptists, the Puritan sects, the Pietists, The Quakers, the Methodists and the Plymouth Brothers."

Further support for Christopher Dawson's thesis can be found in the events surrounding the founding of the Salvation Army in 1882. It had become clear to many Anglican bishops and a considerable number of clergy that the Salvation Army was a movement, which could no longer be ignored, and there were many who still had uneasy consciences over the earlier secession of Methodists. Moreover, William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army, often claimed that the movement he had founded was not a church or sect but simply a mission. The Catholic poet, Francis Thompson, suggested that the Army could be thought of as a Religious order similar to the Franciscans. This claim seemed to be confirmed by the decision, made by Booth in 1881, that the Salvation Army would not administer the sacraments. As Booth pointed out, "We came into this position originally by determining not to be a Church. We did not wish to undertake the administration of the sacraments and thereby bring ourselves into collision with existing churches."

However, negotiations between the Anglican Church and the Salvation Army came to nothing. Cardinal Manning commented at the time,

Mr Booth declares his firm resolve the Salvation Army shall never become a sect. He cites the failure of John Wesley in his attempt to maintain an unsectarian position.He seems to wish that it may blow upon all the Valley of Dry Bones - men, women, children, sects, communions, and, as he perhaps would say, Churches, quickening and raising them to a higher life.Nevertheless we have the conviction that the Salvation Army will either become a sect, or it will melt away. This world is not the abode of disembodied spirits.

Cardinal Manning's prophecy was fulfilled. Hence, William Booth confirmed in 1994: "We are in no wise dependant on the Church. If it perished off the face of the earth tomorrow we should be just as efficient for the discharge of the duties we owe to men as we are today. We are, I consider, equal everyway and everywhere to any other Christian organization on the face of the earth (i) in spiritual authority, (ii) in spiritual intelligence, (iii) in spiritual functions. We hold 'the keys' as truly as any Church in existence."

Allan Lancashire -Brief CV

Allan Lancashire was born in China of missionary parents. He read theology at the University of Birmingham. Following National Service he taught Religious Education for seven years. He was ordained into the Anglican ministry in 1963 and, following several years in parochial ministry, was Education Sector Minister in Milton Keynes and Schools Adviser in the Lichfield Diocese. In 1986 he was Priest-in-Charge of a number of rural parishes in north Oxfordshire.

He retired in 1996 and was received into the Catholic Church in the same year.He now lives in South Birmingham. He is the author of Born of the Virgin Mary (Faith Press) and Journeys of Faith (Churchman Publishing).

Section Contents Copyright ©; Mark Alder and Alan Lancashire 2000

Version: 13th July 2000

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