Saturday, February 23, 2013

Cranmer's Genius

I was using the 1662 Prayer Book this evening for Evening Prayer. I always enjoy using the 1662 Book, although I do not use it exclusively. Using this book again led me down a series of thoughts related to the nature of the problem(s) of the Anglican Communion, as always, as I see them.

The genius of the Prayer Book is that it is so much more than a collection of prayers, although it is that, and a good collection at that. The Prayer Book is a theological book at its heart. It is theology woven into liturgy. The 1662 Book is a better example of this than the American books (because they tend to emphasize some things that were not emphasized much by Cranmer), which is the culmination of the English Protestant Reform, which originates with Cranmer, yet adds to his work in some significant areas. This is a fact that is perhaps ignored by some, however, I think it is important to acknowledge this, even though the title of this post is "Cranmer's Genius". The 1662 BCP stems from Cranmer's work in 1552, yet it has the experience of a hundred years of prayer woven into it as well. Given that, we can now return back to Cranmer. His genius lay in the fact that he truly grasped that (ever so) popular, Latin phrase, lex orandi, lex credendi, which roughly translates to "the law of prayer is the law of believing," meaning that what we pray is what we believe. However, this cycle is not so neatly defined, sometimes our beliefs influence our prayers equally. Let us consider the Office of Evening (or Morning) Prayer in the 1662 BCP. This is a theology of justification by faith alone woven into the traditional structure of the daily prayers of the Church. The daily offices have their root in the first adaptations of monasticism in the 4th century, when monks began to recite the Psalter regularly, first every day, but as time progressed they settled on an easier once a week. Cranmer took this tradition and simplified it, eliminating the "office" of monk, destroying the distinction between "religious" and "secular". He took the biblical doctrine of justification by faith alone and bathed it in the structures of the Middle Ages. His liturgy starts with a call to repentance by acknowledging our own sins and faults. We then confess and repent of our sins and are pardoned by Christ through his ministers. We then praise God by offering to Him the Lord's Prayer. We respond to God in praise through the Psalms. It is only after we have confessed and been forgiven of our sins that we can approach and hear God's Word. We respond in praise to His Word to us by praising Him with the songs of Scripture. The whole of the liturgy portrays in traditional language and structure the biblical doctrine of justification by faith alone and also the sufficiency of Scripture as the whole of the rite is saturated with the Scriptures. It is in these simple, daily services that Cranmer's genius shines through, for in these services Cranmer was able to expose the English people to God's grace in Christ Jesus and re-awaken the knowledge of his sacrificing death for all mankind.

However, where Cranmer succeed by God's grace, modern Anglicans have miserably failed. Where Cranmer saw the necessity of unifying doctrine and theology, it seems that modern Anglicans have forgotten this vital connection. Many seem to be using a liturgy that does not support that which they believe or seem to believe something that their liturgy does not reflect. Take the example of the Anglo-Catholic using his beloved 1928 BCP every day. The problem is that his theology is directly and explicitly condemned by that book. It makes no sense to believe in transubstantiation or consubstantiation and use the Prayer Book, those doctrines are not compatible with the theology of the Prayer Book as it is expressed in the liturgy. This is the problem of using the liturgy of the Prayer Book but not believing the theology of the Prayer Book. In some places it is common to hold to the theology of the Prayer Book but neglect to use the liturgy of the Prayer Book, this is common in places such as the Diocese of Sydney. Unfortunately, this is equally a problem, although to a lesser extent. The theology of the Prayer Book was specifically designed to be expressed by the liturgy of the Prayer Book. To reject this is to reject a glorious tradition of common prayer, bathed in the truths of Scripture and the unfailing doctrine of Christ.

This is one of the key problems that I see. We have created a false dichotomy. We have created a situation where we have to choose between the theology of the Prayer Book and the liturgy of the Prayer Book. The problem is this is a lie, they are one and the same. You cannot believe in purgatory, transubstantiation, or praying to the saints and truthfully follow the theology of the Prayer Book. The question might linger in your minds... how do we know the theology of the Prayer Book? Isn't Anglicanism a complicated system of muddy, theological waters, rather intended to confuse, rather than edify? No, it is not, to know the theology of the Prayer Book, one must read the Prayer Book an take it at its plain meaning (as the Declaration to the Articles plainly states). A certain type of exegesis has developed whereby a man looks for the exception rather than the mainstream when approaching the Prayer Book, therefore we end up with alien theology because there is one word in the third paragraph on page 300 or a semicolon over on page 420. If you read the Prayer Book and something remains unclear, go to the Articles, if it remains unclear check out the Divines, and other authorized catechisms, such as Nowell's Catechism. I assure you, nothing will remain unclear at that point (except cases where there is genuine comprehensiveness, such as predestination, the necessity or non-necessity of bishops, etc.).

If we can simply follow the theology of the Prayer Book, which is really the theology of the Bible and Christ Himself, and use the liturgy of the Prayer Book, I think we can overcome this present calamity.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Genuine Inclusivity

If you have any experience with mainline Protestantism (by which I mean the vestiges of Protestant Christianity in these United States), you have probably had the misfortune of hearing talk of "inclusivity". The rhetoric usually goes something like, "We need to be inclusive of all people in our fellowships and embody the 'radical inclusivity' of Jesus." You might hear of "intentionally welcoming" churches or perhaps they are more into "embracing" things. There seems to be a plethora of "intentional communities" "striving for justice and equality" among "all". If "inclusivity" is a buzz word, a goal to be strived for, "exclusivity" is now a nasty word, especially in mainline Protestantism, and our beloved Episcopal Church.

I'm going to say something shocking perhaps for my readers, I agree with these statements, the Church should be more inclusive of all peoples. Now, I think the problem with this type of thinking is that it seriously misunderstands what inclusivity means. It seems to me that inclusivity in this paradigm is intended to mean the full acceptance of a person and their behaviors. This is seen particularly well in the so-called "full-inclusion" of gays and lesbians into the life of the Church. The problem with this sort of definition of inclusivity is that it isn't inclusive at all, it's rather indifference. I will continue with the sexuality debate because it's so prominent in the Church today. It's become vogue in our culture to not comment on other people's sexual lives (especially for "heterosexual" people), regardless of whom they chose to sleep with, and, might I add that this is equally a problem in 'conservative" churches as in "liberal" ones. Just go count how many supposed "evangelicals" are living with their significant others or how many pastors are divorced and remarried or the prevalence of pornography among God's people. Homosexuality is not the only sin plaguing our Church. Let me say something, there is nothing about homosexuality that should draw special condemnation from Christians, especially if we are going to ignore the rest of our Lord's teaching on sexuality and marriage. All are sinners, some happen to be gay sinners, but there are quite a few more straight sinners, just statistically speaking. Now let me say a bit more about gays, since everybody loves talking about them so much. First, if you are excluding gays from the life of the Church, shame on you. I'd be the first to personally go and invite them in because everyone is welcome and we should be welcoming all into our fellowship. Now, to return to the idea of inclusivity as modern progressives understand it, I really believe we've swapped apathy for "inclusivity". There's a huge difference between welcoming all into our midst and looking past sexual deviancy. If a married man were committing adultery, would you not confront him about his unfaithfulness to his wife? Accepting people does not mean accepting their behaviors and, in fact, true inclusivity means addressing un-Chrstian behaviors of people who are in our parishes. 

The Church is a welcoming place, as it should be, but it is not an indifferent place. We have rules, you know, and when you are buried in baptism and dead from your sins, you are raised to new life in Christ and bound to his perfect law, not your own. Me too, for that matter, I don't particularly find chastity all that appealing but it's not up to me. Now, here's the important part, for me, yes, the Church should be welcoming all into her midst, to learn and share and live with us, but these persons must conform to the teachings of Holy Scripture, if they are to participate in the sacramental life of the Church or serve in leadership positions. I say invite everyone you know to Church and they can see what it's all about. They should not come forward to receive Christ's body and blood by faith, because they have not yet been claimed by Him neither claimed Him as Lord and Saviour. However, they can and should listen to him in the reading of the Word and preaching. They can (hopefully) see his love in our love for one another.

Yet, you might ask, what about the "inclusive message" of Jesus? What of his "gospel" of inclusivity? Better yet, what of the Bible's message of "inclusivity"? If you were thinking these things, you would have been most certainly right. The Bible is a very inclusive book and is concerned immensely with the inclusion of all persons in the Kingdom of God. The Bible goes a step further than even the most radical progressive is willing to go in proclaiming (boldly) that we are all the same. Scripture tells us that "all have sinned" (Rom. 3:23) and that "none are righteous" (Ps. 14:3; 53:3; Rom. 3:10). These portions of Holy Scripture reveal a profound egalitarianism in God's Word written, that being, that we are all  equal in our transgression against Almighty God and all deserving of eternal damnation apart from God for our many sins and wickednesses. However, we know that we have an "inclusive" God who does not ignore our condition, He is anything but indifferent towards us. He has graciously sent his only Son to die on our behalf so that we can again be in relationship with Him. As the Scriptures say, because of Christ's one, perfect oblation of himself, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal. 3:28). We are all one in Christ Jesus, not in our natural state, not because of our achievements, but because of Christ's sacrifice on our behalf. The condition for our oneness in Christ is, of course, our acceptance of Him, by and through his grace, "WHOSOEVER believeth in Him shall not perish" (John 3:16). God's love for man is unconditional, unending, and "inclusive" of all peoples, races, ethnicities, and all other divisions, yet, we must accept Him as Lord and Saviour over our lives, this means submitting ourselves to His will for our lives. As we see throughout Scripture, this means giving up things that we might be fond of, even people, for the sake of God, "Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God" (1 Cor. 6:9-10), if God can give up His only Son to die an atrocious and painful death on our behalf, surely we can give up those "devices and desires" which keep us from Him, by His grace. 

In conclusion, the attitude of the Church towards sinners should be that of Christ Himself. Consider the story of the adulteress, "caught in the act" itself. The people gathered to stone this woman to death, yet, Jesus enters the scene and says, "Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more" (John 8:11). 

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Anglican Myths 11: Comprehensiveness

"Heretics have tampered with the scriptures, and mutilated, and altered them. Catholics never change the scriptures, which always testify for them. Where diversity of doctrine is found, there, then, must the corruption both of the Scriptures and the expositions thereof be regarded as existing."

The above quotation comes from the Church Father, Tertullian, in his commentary on the nature of heresy. I read this on another Anglican blog, which led me to re-consider a popular notion out there about the nature of our Reformed Church, as it has been so gloriously styled in ages past. There seems to be a (regrettably) popular idea out there that Anglicanism is pretty much a free-for-all when it comes to doctrine, so long as you can properly match liturgical colors and chant to perfection. I've heard some ridiculous comments from both oral conversations and virtual interactions that lead me to scratch my head and wonder, "Have you ever read the Articles of Religion?" Granted, many Anglicans have not and probably never will. However, there is a widely popular notion that Anglicanism is doctrinally laissez-faire to incorporate as many Christians as possible, even the less than orthodox ones. What follows is more my interpretation of things as I understand them and as they have been presented in the past. As with any opinion, you are invited to consider it and do with it as you please.

I posted this quote from Tertullian to demonstrate a point, notably that the Anglican Reformers understood perfectly well that diversity of opinion is a plague upon the Church and to be avoided. Let us consider for a moment the title of the Articles of Religion (as it exists in the 1571 Church of England version, the Protestant Episcopal version reveals other things discussed below):

Articles Agreed upon by the Archbishops and Bishops of both Provinces and the Whole Clergy in the Convocation Holden at London in the Year 1562 for the Avoiding of Diversities of Opinions and For the Establishing of Consent Touching True Religion.
Reprinted by Command of His Majesty King Charles I  
I've added underlining to highlight a particular aspect of the Articles of Religion that is not discussed in their presentation, notably that they were written and ratified to avoid diversity, not create it. Granted, there was a desire for a certain kind of comprehensiveness in the Church of England that the bishops and clergy sought for, yet, that was not a doctrinal free-for-all in liturgical uniformity but rather a Protestant comprehensiveness or better said a Magisterial Protestant comprehensiveness, excluding Romanist and Anabaptist ideas (quite expressly at first). Consider the following condemnations of Roman teaching:

VOLUNTARY works besides, over and above, God's commandments which they call Works of Supererogation, cannot be taught without arrogancy and impiety (Article XIV).
THEY also are to be had accursed that presume to say that every man shall be saved by the law or sect which he professeth, so that he be diligent to frame his life according to that law and the light of nature. (Article XVIII)
As the Church of Jerusalem, Alexandria, and Antioch have erred: so also the Church of Rome hath erred, not only in their living and manner of ceremonies, but also in matters of faith. (Article XIX -- also a condemnation of Orthodoxy)
THE Romish doctrine concerning Purgatory, Pardons, worshipping and adoration as well of Images as of Relics, and also Invocation of Saint, is a fond thing vainly invented, and grounded upon no warranty of Scripture; but rather repugnant to the word of God. (Article 22)
IT is a thing plainly repugnant to the word of God and the custom of the primitive Church, to have public prayer in the Church, or to minister the sacraments in a tongue not understanded of the people. (Article 24)
Transubstantiation (or the change of the substance of bread and wine) in the Supper of the Lord, cannot be proved by Holy Writ, but is repugnant to the plain words of Scripture, overthroweth the nature of a Sacrament, and hath given occasion to many superstitions. (Article 28)
THE Cup of the Lord is not to be denied to the lay people; for both parts of the Lord's sacrament, by Christ's ordinance and commandment, ought to be ministered to all Christian men alike. (Article 30)
THE offering of Christ once made is the perfect redemption, propitiation, and satisfaction for all the sins of the whole world, both original and actual, and there is none other satisfaction for sin but that alone. Wherefore the sacrifices of Masses, in the which it was commonly said that the priests did offer Christ for the quick and the dead to have remission of pain or guilt, were blasphemous fables and dangerous deceits. (Article 31)
The Bishop of Rome hath no jurisdiction in this realm of England. (Article 37)
There are nine articles with direct and implicit condemnations, that's not even counting indirect condemnations and positive affirmation of teaching considered anathema by the Roman Church. Examples of the latter kind include the justification by faith only, the fallibility of General Councils, the rejection of five of the traditional seven sacraments, the nature of baptism, the rejection of any presence in the elements, etc. All of this goes to show that the nature of the Articles of Religion was not to provide the bare minimum for membership in the Church of England but to lay down the biblical faith as it is understood in our Churches.

Another point made by the Title is that the Articles of Religion and their exclusive nature (meaning they are meant to exclude certain persons from ministry if they cannot accept these articles) is that this is not a churchmanship issue. The High Church King, Charles the Martyr, expressly commands his clergy to subscribe to the Articles, saying:
"...the Articles of the Church of England... do contain the true doctrine of the Church of England agreeable to God's Word... no man hereafter shall either print, or preach, to draw the Article aside any way, but shall submit to it in the plain and full meaning thereof: and shall not put his own sense or comment to the meaning of the Article, but shall take it in the literal and grammatical sense."
I quote this to point out that the theology of the Articles is not something that makes one "Low Church" or "Evangelical", although these have certainly subscribed unquestionably to the Articles. The traditional High Church school of Anglicanism was just as serious about the Articles of Religion as the Evangelicals were.

Perhaps you are thinking, well, this is all well and good but I am an Episcopalian and such articles are not binding upon me. I would hate to be the first to inform you of this but the Protestant Episcopal Church adopted the Articles of Religion as part of the "doctrine, discipline, and worship" of the Episcopal Church, or that part that your minister supposedly vowed to uphold. As the prefix to the Episcopal Articles of Religion says:
The Articles of Religion: As established by the Bishops, the Clergy, and the Laity of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America, in Convention, on the twelfth day of September, in the Year of our Lord, 1801.
Finally, you might be convinced of some of these things laid out above, but you might think to yourself, well, I am a layman and I have made no subscription, assent, or oath to these teachings, am I bound to them as well? Here you may have a small point, the laity have never been required to subscribe to the Articles for baptism or confirmation. However, King Charles in his preface, notes that these articles are to be agreed upon by "all subjects". Furthermore, the laity are required to know the Catechism for confirmation, which succinctly presents the theology of the Articles (especially on Sacraments) in a question and answer format, which is easier to grasp for some laymen and women. However, there is one historical point which I wish to make, one that is crucial and has (in my opinion) led to Anglicanism's downfall, that is of "church papism" as it was called. "Church papism" is the lingering presence of Romanists in the Church of England after the Reformation. Because the Church does not require subscription for laity, these members are most certainly welcome in our parishes, although they are going to be presented with theology that is not their own. The problem has been that church papists have been able to be elevated to the ordained ministry while openly repudiating the theology of our Church, via the Tractarian movement. Church papism is acceptable so long as the clergy are not teaching papism.

When a Church loses sight of who it is, it can hardly stand. We see this in our own Churches, be they liberal or "conservative", all Anglican churches have lost sight of our theology, present in the Prayer Book, Articles of Religion, and the Ordinal. If we are to survive this present storm, we must return to an unwavering commitment to biblical theology as it is presented to us in our formularies.