Thursday, October 31, 2013

Traditional Anglican Protestantism

In honor of Reformation Day, I wish to provide a brief overview of the tenets of traditional Protestantism and traditional, Anglican Protestantism at that. Albeit a modern invention, Reformation Day, celebrates the purification of the Church and its reformation along biblical and patristic lines. This Reformation led to the profession of the true Gospel of Jesus Christ and the rejection of the false Gospel of Rome, in addition to all of the pollution that centuries of Roman paganism had brought upon Christ's Church. In the Reformation, Bible-believing Christians reclaimed the "sword of truth" and with one stroke proclaim the Good News of Christ and brought down the oppression and heresy of Rome. A return to the profession of this Gospel is the thing that most plagues the Anglican Communion, even above gays and women bishops and modern liturgies, it is in this lack of clarity when proclaiming this Gospel of grace and truth that modern Anglicanism faults entirely. In order to recover the purity of truth and the true Anglican patrimony, we must return to the Christian religion as proclaimed in Holy Scripture.

Traditional, Anglican Protestantism, together with Protestants from the Continent, affirms some basic principles that guide its thinking. These are traditionally called the "five solas of the Reformation" emphasizing certain, biblical truths over the temptation of Romanism.

Firstly, traditional Protestantism affirms the supremacy of Scripture, meaning that Scripture is the only infallible rule of faith. What is not contained therein or what cannot be proven from it, cannot be taught as authoritative for Christian belief and all things that are necessary for salvation are found within its pages. This means that the Church cannot add things to what is taught in Scripture to be required for salvation. This does not rob the authority of the Church or of tradition but severely limits them, in relation to Scripture. Tradition and the Church have authority in the life of the Christian, yet they are not infallible sources. Both the Church, in its ministry and the tradition of the Fathers, can and have erred. This limitation of the authority of the Church answers one of the subsequent questions related to sola Scriptura, that being, what constitutes the Word of God? The answer, of course, is the written Word of God contained within the canonical books of the Holy Scripture. Secondly, the issue of the nature of Scripture's message is of importance. The Roman Church teaches that the common believer cannot understand the fullness of God's Word to us without the aid of the Church. This seems contrary to what God proclaims to us in his Word and contrary to God's will for us.

Secondly, the nature of salvation is of key importance to the traditional Anglican Protestant faith. How are we saved? How can we be in right relationship to God? The answer, according to the Bible, of course, is what the Protestant Reformation was about uncovering. The natural inclination of man is to boast in his own works and claim them as his badge of salvation. The Scriptures proclaim against this profoundly. Firstly, the natural condition of man is such that he has no ability (or desire) to turn to God and cannot do such on his own authority or ability. Secondly, the only means to union with God is through faith. Faith, of course, involves both assent to the right beliefs about God and also trusting in Him and in Christ's work for us at Calvary, salvation is by "faith alone" or sola fide. However, faith is not something that we have in our own being, it is a gift of God. This leads to the next point, being that salvation is by grace alone, or sola gratia. The question of what grace is is also an equally important question. The Roman Church teaches that it is some spiritual force that helps the Christian to do good works. However, the Bible teaches that grace is the unmerited favor of God. This is, of course, something that needs to be unpacked. The unmerited favor of God means that he has looked down upon us and decided to act in saving us without any merit of our own. It is through this unmerited favor that God grants us the faith to believe in him.

Another key point to note is that salvation is not only brought about by God through grace alone and received by faith alone, it is only accomplished by Christ alone. This means that there is no other mediation through which we can receive salvation. This denies the Church and her ministers any role in salvation, other than preaching the Gospel of grace, whereby we can be saved. This cuts to the heart of the works religion as promoted by the Roman Church, which seeks to give man some role in his salvation, which Scripture rightly denies.

If the Anglican Communion wishes to remain a vital force in Protestant Christianity, it must come to proclaim the Gospel of Christ with the same vigor as it has in the past. The present latitudinarianism cannot provide salvation for anyone and, in fact, is leading many away from the riches of God's grace in Christ Jesus. May the Churches of the Communion repent of this sin and return to proclaiming God's love for the world in Christ Jesus.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Black-Letter Days

Those unfamiliar with the history of the English Prayer Book tradition and Anglicanism, are probably not familiar with the term "Black letter days". The concept refers to the classification of feasts in the Church Calendar. With the reform of the liturgy in the 16th century, the Church Calendar was heavily revised, with most of the pre-Reformation material scaled back. In the medieval liturgies, each feast day had propers and there existed a complicated system of preference on which day should be celebrated and which had prominence. Cranmer's reforms largely deleted this system. In the Book of Common Prayer, only New Testament Saints (St. Peter, St. Matthew, etc.) and biblical events (Ascension, Christmas, etc.) were retained as proper feasts with their own collects and lessons. These were printed in red in the Calendar, hence the name "red-letter days". Some other post-New Testament saints were retained in the Calendar, but were not provided with propers. These latter days were printed in black and called "black-letter days".

The black-letter days were not celebrated liturgically, nor were they ever intended to be celebrated in that way. They were mostly reintroduced for civil purposes (often times government sessions and other civil things were operating on the Church calendar, hence "Michaelmas term" for schools and etc.). This does not mean that Anglicanism is opposed to celebrating holy days or seasons. However, Anglicanism has set a limit on what can and should be celebrated. The litmus test for Anglicans is the New Testament, only these saints and events are celebrated liturgically because they can be verified as authentic. The problem with post-New Testament saints is the problem of hagiography or the embellishment of the saints' lives due to superstition. The human mind naturally lends towards idolatry, which Cranmer and other Reformers understood well, the tendency is towards the falsification of human lives to satisfy pagan religious sentiments. Often times it has been discovered that saints are complete fabrications and do not even represent a real human being (i.e. St. Christopher).

When one looks at the development of the Anglican tradition in the United States, one learns a great deal about how Anglicanism was practiced in the 18th and 19th centuries. For instance, an unrelated point deals with the Ornaments Rubric. The American Church deleted this rubric, not because chasubles were worn in the Colonies but because no one was wearing a surplice so it seemed unprofitable to reprint a rubric requiring its use. The same can be seen in the Calendar. If one observes the American prayer books, they will find that there are no "black-letter days" in the American prayer books. The black-letter days were not "used" in any functional sense and in the same way that the Ornaments Rubric was deleted so were the black-letter days, which became a problem for the later Tractarians in America.

The question arises, when looking at the American prayer books as to the nature of political commemorations that are observed in both the United States and in England. For instance, the American prayer books provide propers for Thanksgiving and (later) Independence Day. The English Prayer Book provided forms for State Services until Queen Victoria removed them in the 19th century. The difference between these political observances and black-letter days is that political commemorations do not lend to idolatry, whereas black-letter days can if they are not properly conducted.

With the re-introduction of Romanism into our Church via the Oxford Movement, there came an aping towards the saints (which is inherent to Roman superstition and pagan religion). The black-letter days on the Calendar provided an excellent opportunity for the Tractarians to satisfy religious superstition. The problem was that there were no propers for these days in the English Prayer Book (because they are not to be celebrated). The first attempt at reintroducing medieval collects and propers into the Anglican Calendar that I know of was Percy Dearmer's English Liturgy (published in 1903). This really demonstrates the novelty of the concept of commemorating non-biblical saints in Anglicanism.

Modern Anglicanism has complicated things a bit further by commemorating people who are not recognized as "saints" by the "undivided Church" (which it has the right to do). Anglicanism does not have a tradition of canonization (with the exception of King Charles the Martyr who was granted something akin to canonization after his martyrdom). This creates a unique problem when the powers that be hardly consider themselves Christian anymore (and hence the proliferation of questionable characters in the newest sanctoral calendars released by our Protestant Episcopal Church).

The solution? Revert to the classical position of only commemorating biblical saints.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Evangelical Fellowship of the Anglican Communion

The Hackney Hub is currently involved with efforts to re-establish EFAC-USA in the Episcopal Church. Interested parties should contact either the Hackney Hub or post at Evangelicals in the Episcopal Church's blog:

The Revd Canon George Kovoor, General Secretary of EFAC, has been elected rector of St John’s Episcopal Church, New Haven. St John’s acquired a reputation as an evangelical parish under the long tenure ofPeter Rodgers. Kovoor was President of one of the Church of England’s theological colleges (seminaries), Trinity College, Bristol, from 2005 to April 2013.

EFAC is the international body supported by the organisations that represent the Evangelicals in each of the various Anglican churches throughout the world. EFAC-USA, formerly the Fellowship of Witness, was the organisation representing Evangelicals in the Episcopal Church. EFAC-USA ceased to function when its chairman left the Episcopal Church, and has yet to be reorganised. There is a history of EFAC-USA, written by Cook Kimball, and a copy of the EFAC Statement of Faith, on our ‘Resources’ page.

For click here.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

The Church Catechism: Knowing God and Serving Him

This series is based in part off of a lecture given by the Hackney Hub at at a diocesan event.

The Church Catechism, as found in the Book of Common Prayer, is an excellent introduction to the Christian faith, in general, and to the way it has been practiced in England and English-speaking areas since the Reformation. It is to be commended for its simplicity, which makes it accessible to every man in nearly every stage of life. It does not deviate from (the commonly called) first order issues, i.e. those things which are necessary for salvation. 

The Catechism is comprised of the elements that make up the basis of Christian faith. These were the traditional elements learned before confirmation, both before and after the Reformation. They include, the Creed, the Decalogue, and the Lord's Prayer. The 1604 revision added a section on the Sacraments at the end, another basic component of Christian faith. I believe the Catechism adequately addresses the two main aspects of the Christian life, that being the interior process of conversion and sanctification and the exterior realization of said change. 

The first two sections of the Catechism (the "introduction" and the Creed) deal with the interior process of conversion or coming to faith. "Faith" in itself is a two sided coin as well. First, it describes the mental affirmation, or "head faith", of the doctrines of the Christian faith, that being the doctrine of the Trinity, the Incarnation, Resurrection, Virgin Birth, etc. These mental affirmations are important because we must know who God is, how he relates to the world, and the manner in which he came to earth, in order to properly have faith in his goodness towards us. The other side of "faith" is "heart faith" or the conviction of sin, whereby we realize that we are nothing without God's mercy and grace, obviously only initiated by the workings of the Holy Spirit in our hearts. This conviction leads us to the Cross of Christ, whereby we find healing in his wounds and forgiveness of our wrongdoing. This "heart faith" is the stuff of conversion and sanctification, of turning away from sin and to Christ as Lord and Savior. 

To turn to the first portion of the Catechism:

QUESTION. What is your Name?
Answer. N. or M.
Question. Who gave you this Name?
Answer. My Godfathers and Godmothers in my Baptism; wherein I was made a member of Christ, the child of God, and an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven.
Question. What did your Godfathers and Godmothers then for you?
Answer. They did promise and vow three things in my name. First, that I should renounce the devil and all his works, the pomps and vanity of this wicked world, and all the sinful lusts of the flesh. Secondly, that I should believe all the Articles of the Christian Faith. And thirdly, that I should keep God's holy will and commandments, and walk in the same all the days of my life.
Question. Dost thou not think that thou art bound to believe, and to do, as they have promised for thee?
Answer. Yes verily: and by God's help so I will. And I heartily thank our heavenly Father, that he hath called me to this state of salvation, through Jesus Christ our Saviour. And I pray unto God to give me his grace, that I may continue in the same unto my life's end.
In this first portion of the Catechism, we learn some very important things about ourselves and our true identity. In the first question, we see that the whole of our identity is tied to Christ as our name was given to us at our baptism, the beginning of our journey in faith. In this sacrament, Christ claims us as his own and begins his work of redemption within us. Of course, as young infants, we cannot know the nature of sin and repentance, it is for this reason that our godparents made these promises on our behalf. In this sense, maturation in the Christian faith is to take these promises made on our behalf and to make them properly our own promises. For this reason, baptism makes us "inheritors" because of the promises made on our behalf and the faithfulness of God.

What is the nature of the promises made on our behalf? That we should renounce the devil and sin, that we should believe the Christian faith, and that we should walk in God's will and keep his commandments. This is the high calling to which we must strive to live, not of our own power but of the power of Christ within us. These promises are not trivial matters but matters which cut the core of who we are as human beings. For this reason, it is important that we understand the nature of what we are agreeing to by believing in God and secondly, to know the great benefits of this relationship. For this, we can turn to Holy Scripture for clarification on the nature of faith.

The most basic question of all is, what is faith? What does it mean to have faith in God? The Scriptures offer us a clear definition, "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen" (Hebrews 11:1). The author goes on to say that it was through faith that the saints of the Old Testament "obtained a good report" (v. 2) meaning that faith has always been the means by which believers find communion with God. Returning to the concept of two "faiths" that I mentioned earlier, this is more the realm of "head faith" which will be dealt with in the next installment of this series (of the Creed) but it is important to note that "head faith" and "heart faith" are intertwined but one must have both to fully comprehend the mysteries of God. In verse 3, we see that faith opens us up to the reality of God and the supernatural world, "Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear." This is why the natural man has such a hard time understanding the things of God, because his heart and mind have not been opened to this truth. Our hearts and minds must be opened to this truth to truly approach God, for, how can we approach him if we are not certain of his existence and work among us? "But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him" (v. 6).

Having this definition of faith in mind and what it opens up to us, if we turn to the previous chapter of the book of Hebrews, we can see the immense benefits that faith in God can open to us:

19 Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus,
20 By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh;
21 And having an high priest over the house of God;
22 Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water.
23 Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;)
24 And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works:
25 Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.

Before even commenting on this passage, we must realize that the basis of our faith is the sacrifice of Christ made for us at Calvary. This is evident in the text itself as the previous portion of the chapter speaks of Christ's sacrifice. The Cross of Christ is the only thing that makes any of this beneficial and it is the only means by which we have access to God.

This portion of Holy Scripture describes the benefits of faith in Christ. There are several benefits listed in this passage. First, in verse 19, we see that we have access to God. We can enter his presence at any time, without the mediation of another. For this reason, the Exhortation at Morning Prayer says, "Wherefore I pray and beseech you, as many as are here present, to accompany me with a pure heart, and humble voice, unto the throne of the heavenly grace, saying after me..." because we can approach the "throne of heavenly grace" at all times and in all places. The point of having this access to God is to have communion with Him, for this is what He desires of us and what we are growing to desire of Him. Second, in verse 20, we note that Christ is the only way to the Father. This verse describes Christ as a "new and living way" and then brings to reference the veil of the Temple. This contrasts the Covenants of Works and Grace.

The next portion is crucial. In verses 22 to 24, we see that faith is the only way by which we can have these benefits. This refers us back to the Catechism, where we see the "plan of salvation" laid out for us, that being the conviction of sin, repentance and faith, followed by sanctification of life as evidenced by our following the Commandments of God. Verse 22 refers to the interior and exterior realities of this transformation. First, our hearts are "sprinkled from an evil conscience" which refers to repentance of sin and consequently "our bodies washed with pure water', which refers to baptism, our entrance into the family of God as his children. Baptism is the sign of regeneration, which is why it is tied so closely to the interior regeneration and repentance of sin here.

This miraculous work of God leads us to not only show evidence of our own faith through charity and good works but also encourages us to help others do the same. Our good works and love are evidence of a life saved by faith through grace. They show our thanksgiving to God for all that he has done for us and in us. The last verse of this passage is perhaps strange to some. What does the public assembly of believers have to do with our salvation from sin? A great deal, according to the Scriptures. We are not saved to be hermits on a mountaintop but to be in the world (but not of it). For this, we need the encouragement of other believers who have experienced the same wondrous salvation in Christ. For this reason, we gather week by week to praise God together and listen to his works among us.

Lastly, we return to the Catechism, whereby we note that the last question states a key point. That being that none of this is possible by our own strength or will. This is God's work in us for his glory. The Christian faith is remarkably humbling in its complete denial of our own role in our salvation. We cannot turn to God on our own, nor do we have the desire so to do. The only reason we are saved is because of his great mercy and love to us. Moreover, the only way that we can continue in his will is through his grace. As the Scripture says, "Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;)" (v. 23).