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.

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