The Church is like a family and we all have a sense how things operate and our rolls. When something outside of the church family enters in or if something within the church family changes and introduces discord, then like our families at home, the church will work to restore balance and a sense of harmony. Over time, if that balance is not restored, if those negative catalyst continue to impact the church, then you will see a falling apart, because at that stage, the disquiet at church is also affecting person’s personal life; and so, in order to restore the balance in their own life, they will cut out the area causing the disquiet. However, the disquiet is not always bad, because it can bring needed change. And, as I’m certain you are aware, this swing in the balance of the church has occurred almost continuously since its beginning. During the 17th century, within the Church of England, we saw a rather dramatic swing take place with the rise of a more radical protestantism and latitudinarianism.
This movement gained popularity among the people, the clergy, and the state (the Church of England was an established church, or government sanctioned). The main intent of the movement was to “make men good” with a moral, legalistic approach to the faith, which meant you didn’t really need structure or ritual. Put another way, if it looked Catholic, it wasn’t needed. What you ended up with was a milk-toast church.
The historian Henry Wakeman in his book, An Introduction to the History of the Church of England wrote that, with few exceptions, “the clergy held and taught a negative and cold Protestantism deadening to the imagination, studiously repressive to the emotions, and based on principles which found little sanction either in reason or in history. The laity willingly accepted it, as it made so little demand upon their conscience, so little claim upon their life.” The Church lost all sense of mystery, of the Divine, of sacramental holiness. For such actions, in the words of one of my grade school teachers, “May the Lord have mercy on your soul, because I’m not.”
The balance had been lost, so to counter this, a small but intellectually powerful group of church members came together to form what was known as the Oxford Movement (and we all say, “God bless them, one and all.”)
One of the members of this movement was John Henry Newman (he would later convert to Roman Catholicism), he stated that John Keble, who we celebrate today, was “the true and primary author of the… [Oxford] Movement.” Not only were they able to restore the traditions of the church, but they also restored that sense of awe and beauty in the worship of God. It wasn’t just about “being good,” it was about being caught up – body, mind, and spirit – in the Spirit of the Triune God.
In the midst of all this pulling and tugging for the soul of the Church, like at any other time, there was always a certain amount of rancor, but not with Keble. A friend wrote, “He was the most refined and courteous of gentlemen, and in the midst of the fierce party battles of his day he was always a considerate and courteous opponent.”
This nature can be seen throughout his writings and sermons and gives the reader the impression that John Keble was one who tried to embody the Beatitudes that we read in our Gospel.
For the way in which we worship today, we can give thanks to John Keble and the others, because they understood there was more to a life with Christ than simply following a set of moral, legalistic laws. They understood that the worship of God engaged more than the intellect and reason, but the entire person and all their senses.