Thursday, January 30, 2014

Things that are Killing Anglicanism: Theological Liberalism

Liberalism is the number one thing that is killing Anglicanism in North America, in my view. Defining liberalism is a difficult task, especially considering that it is a political philosophy but which has entered into other spheres. I will use the following definition, "a movement in modern Protestantism that emphasizes freedom from tradition and authority, the adjustment of religious beliefs to scientific conceptions, and the development of spiritual capacities." Whilst the purpose of my brief post here is not to expound what I perceive liberalism to be, I think it useful to provide this framework to show how I understand the term. I will focus, as will be found evident in my assertions below, on the notion of "freedom from tradition and authority", particularly tradition, which I would characterize as a discomfort with the tradition of the Church. It must be stated plainly beforehand that the Anglican tradition does not have an issue with tradition in the sense that some Enlightenment-influenced Protestants do. Tradition is an authority in the Church but it is not infallible nor on the same level as Holy Scripture.

Another issue is one that is often found amongst those who have left the national Church for some other body. The usual thinking among that crowd is that the national Church is exclusively liberal. However, for a person coming from my point of view there is as much liberalism in a body such as the Anglican Church in North America, whilst it must be acknowledged that this body has done a better job of maintaining Christian teaching on holy matrimony, it has not maintained the whole corpus of Christian doctrine and tradition.

I have chosen a few representative issues to paint a picture of the liberalism that exists in all Anglican churches. You will notice a similarity between three of the four things which I have chosen to discuss, that being that they are a rejection of the natural order. The natural order is the underlying organization of things by God's Almighty design. This has to do with our sexual desires and the organization of our families and Church.

Let's begin by looking, briefly, at some of the issues.

1. Homosexuality

This is obviously the most common thing that comes to mind when someone utters the word "liberal"; it is the cause of the most recent schisms in the Anglican world and likely not going anywhere, considering our culture's rapid acceptance of this lifestyle. The decision by some Christians to accept same-sex relations as normal and "holy" is one of the more serious abandonments of Christian doctrine in this century (and the past). The issues here are manifold. First, this is not simply a rejection of Scriptural truth (need I mention "the seven verses"?) but also a rejection of the natural order of things. In regards to the first point, that of rejecting Scripture, this is not simply a rejection of Scripture's teaching on homosexual activity, but a certain way of reading Scripture, which leads to the rejection of other aspects of the natural order for the same reasons. The typical way of thinking associated with this approach is to regard Scripture as a culturally-sensitive document, i.e. to the first century, and only certain portions of the same are relevant for us today. Obviously, we need not dwell too long on the errors of that sort of thinking. We must remember that the Scriptures are infallible and our only rule of faith.

Homosexuality is a form of idolization of the same-sex and cuts to the core of the natural order, which is based on sexual complementarity (for the means of reproduction). It goes without saying that sexuality is primarily biological in nature, meaning it has an explicit purpose of producing offspring. No one doubts that when the male and female engage in sexual activity the possibility of new life is there. This is not possible in homosexual activity, for obvious reasons. This divorces sexuality from its natural purpose (without going into the birth control issue). These are some of the reasons why homosexuality is condemned in Scripture.

Now, how does embracing homosexuality clash with Scripture? Besides blatantly contradicting it, the more serious issue is the hermeneutic necessary to arrive at this conclusion. If only certain bits of Scripture are true and relevant, who decides which portions are and which portions are not? As we shall see, this is equally an issue with the ordination of women, when we decide that one portion of Scripture is no longer relevant, the whole of Scripture becomes irrelevant.

2. Ordination of women

The previous issue was one that affects most notably the Protestant Episcopal Church, whilst this issue is common throughout both the PEC and ACNA. This issue is considered liberal because it disregards two thousand years of unanimous, Christian teaching. Proponents of this view struggle in the same sense as before in deciding that certain portions of Scripture are not relevant anymore to the life of the Church. The issue of the ordination of women is hard to maintain when considering the Apostle Paul's writings concerning the qualifications of bishops and deacons. A bishop and deacon must be the husband of one wife. I've yet to understand how a woman can fulfill this requirement. This is not the whole of the argument against women's ordination but only one example of the issues with this sort of liberalism.

Some of the folks in ACNA will likely bring up that "most of the ACNA bishops are against the ordination of women" or something similar to that, even though the Archbishop is notably a proponent of it. This brings up the issue of "dual integrities" which is essentially a form of "Christian" relativism. Whilst the ordination of women is not a Gospel issue, meaning that ordaining women or having a female minister does not jeopardize the salvation of any souls, it does open the door for false teaching. The reason for this is the struggle to justify the departure from what part of Scripture says.

An issue which must be mentioned (and could be its own subheading) is the questioning of biblical scholarship, which in itself is a good thing, however, there is a tendency to question the authorship of Scripture (where it claims an author). In my mind, there is a difference between hypothesizing about who was the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews or even of the Gospels, which do not have explicit authors, in the text itself (tradition associates the Gospels with their namesakes' and Hebrews to the Apostle Paul), and questioning the authorship of Paul's epistles wherein he claims explicit authorship. This is the sort of rhetoric that must be embraced in order to get around the Bible's addressing of the question of who can be ordained.

3. Divorce and remarriage

Divorce and remarriage have always been condemned by Christianity, even our own Anglican Church, wherein divorce and remarriage were prohibited. Some have noted the "Matthean" and "Pauline" exceptions, which are not going to be discussed here, but besides these disagreements, divorce and remarriage have been condemned. In the 1604 Canons of the Church of England, we see that remarriage of persons was not allowed:
Canon CVINo Sentence shall be given either for Separation a thoro & mensa, or for annulling of pretended Matrimony, but in open Court, and in the Seat of Justice, and that with the Knowledge and Consent either of the Archbishop within his Province, or of the Bishop within his Diocese, or of the Dean of the Arches, the Judge of the Audience of Canterbury, or of the Vicars General, or other principal Officials, or sede vacante, of the Guardians of the Spiritualities, or other Ordinaries to whom of Right it appertaineth, in their several Jurisdictions and Courts, and concerning them only, that are then dwelling under their Jurisdictions.
I only post this to show the general attitudes that were upheld in the Church of England in times past. A full treatment of divorce and remarriage is not possible at this point but the crux of the issue is the abandonment of biblical standards by both "conservative orthodox" Episcopalians and "conservative orthodox" Anglicans.

Moreover, even if we are to permit some level of disagreement over the exact nature of the biblical exceptions to divorce, we must return to the biblical requirements for Christian ministers. As mentioned above, one of those requirements is that they be the "husband of one wife". The issue of divorced clergy is beyond the issue of divorced Christians. How can we expect our Church to uphold the biblical definition of marriage when a good number of our clergy are divorced and remarried?

The issue of liberalism, infidelity to God's Word and natural order is destroying Anglicanism because it questions our fidelity to the truthfulness of the Scriptures (in addition to what our own tradition teaches about the Bible's truthfulness).

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Things that are Killing Anglicanism: An Introduction

This is a brief introduction a series of posts I plan to do. I've noticed a few trends that (I think) are killing Anglicanism in North America. As always, these are only my opinions and I'm certain that a fair number of people will be opposed to the things that I say, which I hope will note said disagreements in the comments section!

Not only do I intend to list the things that are harming our Church but also to propose some form of remedy to the problem. This is even more contentious of an issue than simply complaining about perceived problems. I except my suggestions for change to be even more disagreeable to certain people than the former.

I hope to have the first post up later today.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Anglican Fundamentalism

The title of this post seems a bit outlandish; fundamentalism is certainly not a posh attitude to have, especially in the realm of religion. How can one be fundamentalistic about an Established Church (or church in the "established" tradition, for those churches maintaining the Church of England in her former colonies)? If one examines the origins of the word fundamentalism, he will certainly find that its origins do not necessitate fanaticism. It is really the origin of the word that I am focusing on in this piece, not necessarily its current associations.

The origins of Christian fundamentalism are found in a conservative reaction to liberal theology in the latter part of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th, particularly the publication of a twelve-volume study, The Fundamentals, from 1910 to 1915. I am not going to discuss these in detail for the purpose of this is merely an analogy. However, The Fundamentals promoted the basic Christian teachings such as the virgin birth of Christ, the bodily resurrection and bodily return of Christ to earth at some point in the future, and the doctrine of substitutionary atonement. Moreover, the main assertion of the early fundamentalist movement was the truthfulness of the Bible in asserting the literal interpretation of it in addition to asserting its inerrancy (which we will not debate here). The purpose being that these are (or should be) self-evident truths to Christians, there should not have to be a separate "class" of Christians affirming the Virgin Birth. This is creedal orthodoxy.

The fundamentalists held a simple faith, not a simplistic faith. They believed what the Bible says because it says so. "Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so." This sort of rhetoric. This is the simplicity of fundamentalism, however, this does not mean the movement is anti-intellectual in origins (this is not a commentary on the present manifestations of the same but its historical advent). The contents of The Fundamentals are rather intellectual in tone and should be taken seriously. However, the simplicity of it all is the virtue I wish to explore.

Herein lies the first comparison I wish to make. The fundamentalists in simple faith acknowledge the things contained in the Bible to be true because they trust that it is God's Word. This fact alone makes it a trustworthy thing. Anglicans, particularly those of a High Church persuasion (in the original meaning of that word), believe all of the Formularies to faithfully expound the teaching of Holy Scripture, in other words, they find it "agreeable to God's Word" and contain "a godly and wholesome doctrine," meaning that all that is contained therein is faithful to Scripture and not only worthy of our acceptance but necessary. This implies that all of the Scriptural truths contained in the Formularies should be upheld, such as the doctrine of justification by faith alone, that Scripture is the only infallible rule of faith, that God predestined some to life, the two Sacraments of the Gospel, given for our benefit, and also the rejection of certain errors, such as, the doctrine of purgatory, the invocation of saints, and the prayer for the dead, the Sacrifice of the Mass, and other such errors. 

The other comparison I would like to make is that of the zealous nature of the fundamentalist movement. This results from the former conviction that the Bible is God's Word and contains all truth. If this is true, then one must be diligent in spreading its message. This principle should be carried over to the Anglican context. If someone is convinced that the Formularies contain and faithfully expound the teaching of Scripture, including the Gospel of grace, how can they not stand firm in that conviction? This is the real nature of the issue is that there needs to exist a passion for the Anglican tradition, not at the expense of our Protestant brethren (and "sistren") but at the expense of Romanism and Modernism, the enemies of the true Gospel. 

The main point I wish to convey is that if we are to believe that Anglicanism is biblical, then we must believe all of it is so and be passionate about its contents. This includes an embrace of the things which our Formularies teach and a rejection of the things they reject.

Friday, January 17, 2014

A Pope for the Anglican Church in North America?

By Robin G. Jordan at Anglicans Ablaze
Everything that was incorporated into the College of Bishops’ January communique was intended to influence the ACNA memberships' view of the College of Bishops and what it is doing. This is what is known as “spin.” The Merriam Webster Online Dictionary defines “spin” as “a certain way of describing or talking about something that is meant to influence other people's opinion of it.”

The College of Bishops’ January communiqué is in a number of places quite pretentious. For example, the communiqué states, “The bishops of the Anglican Church in North America have made it clear that it is a high priority to be together to pray and meet in council to carry forward the apostolic ministry of the Church.” The bishops apparently have a different understanding of the nature of “the apostolic ministry of the Church” from that of the New Testament. If the bishops had been engaging in “the apostolic ministry of the Church” in the New Testament sense, they would not have been meeting in Orlando, Florida, but would have been busy in their respective dioceses and networks evangelizing, preaching, and teaching and planting and strengthening new churches like the apostle Paul. Indeed all Christians who evangelize, preach, and teach and plant and strengthen new churches are engaging in the same ministry as the apostles.

To read the rest, go here.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Defining Classical Anglicanism (Keep it Simple…)

This is a short post to follow a previous one that I posted, regarding the definition of Anglicanism. This is due to the opposition to the term "classical Anglican" in some circles. The term "classical Anglican" is a bit of an overkill but it really only exists because the term "Anglicanism" has eroded in meaning to the extent that it has that it is essentially meaningless, since no parties involved are interested in maintaining its doctrine, discipline, or worship. One can experience this by drifting through any assembling of Anglicans, either virtual or physical. One will see appeals to certain theologians (the "12345" approach) or to a consensus of theologians (i.e. the Caroline divines).

If we reflect on the terms "classical" and "Anglican" we will perhaps arrive at a comprehensible definition (or if not something agreeable to all, at least the reader will understand my point of view). I've looked for the definitions of both of these words in the Merriam-Webster dictionary, to discover their common meanings. First, if we consider the word "classical", we see the following four words associated with this adjective, "standard, classic" and "authoritative, traditional". We shall return to these in a moment. Briefly, when one looks for the definition of Anglican, we see, "of or relating to the established episcopal Church of England and churches of similar faith and order in communion with it" (which raises a number of questions relating to the so-called realignment).

The use of the word "classical" denotes the authoritative, traditional standards associated with something. These are set aside by public authority, i.e. not the private collection of an individual or a group of divines' thoughts on any myriad of subjects. Rather, these are the official opinions of the assembled church (with Scripture being the judge of its truthfulness). This is not to say the opinions of private individuals should not be consulted nor that they are useless but their place must be remembered. They are just the opinions of certain persons, even if they faithfully expound Holy Scripture. The thing that makes something "classical" is its authority as expressing the opinion of the whole, not the part. It is the standard by which other things are judged.

Now, we consider the other word. If the "classical" standards by which we are to be governed are the defining mark of our identity, the question arises, from whence do these come? The answer, of course, is the Established Church of England. Anglicans, being the descendants of English Protestants in this Established Church, adhere to her standards. These are marked as authoritative by the mark of royal assent. This marks the Church's approval of the doctrine contained therein.

What then are the standards that define "classical Anglicanism"? One must look to those documents approved by public authority. These include: the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, the Book of Common Prayer (1662), and the two books of Homilies.

Another question often arises, how are we to know the meaning of these texts (especially considering the later notion that these do not affirm the things they plainly affirm)? Firstly, one must note that there are guidelines within the texts themselves as to their interpretation. For instance, the Preface to the Thirty-nine Articles notes that they are the teaching of the Church of England and that they are to be read in their plain meaning for what they historically taught. Likewise, one can look to other documents approved by the same public authority, such as the Catechism of Alexander Nowell (referenced in the 79th Canon additionally), the Canons themselves, or the Apology of the Church of England.

Anglicanism must be left to define itself, as it has already done. This was done in the 16th century and is not dependent on the opinion of 17th century divines or 19th century divines.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Male and Female He Created Them

In a former post, I alluded to a future discussion of the use of the terms "gay" and "straight" by Christians. I now intend to discuss this in this post. The problem with raising the question to the validity of these terms is their role in our cultural, sexual orthodoxy. To question them is like questioning the Trinity in the Vatican. However, I think the use of these terms can be problematic for Christians for two reasons, first, it confirms the world's understanding of sexuality and secondly, it undermines the Scriptural way of thinking about identity. The latter point is crucial, these terms are identity terms, concepts by which people choose to identify themselves. It is important that we not lose sight of the identity we have in Christ, that which Scripture teaches.

Firstly, the use of these terms is fairly recent as is the use of sexual orientation (both as a term and) as a source of identity for persons. In classical times, there was no talk of 'sexual orientation' (be that good or bad). The ancients did not think of sexual activity as a defining characteristic of a person. This means that persons who engaged in homosexual activity were not thought of as "gay" or whatever word now best describes this sort of activity, but as men who engaged sexually with other men (or as the CDC would put it "MSM"). This is obviously different than how sexuality is perceived in today's culture, and especially in relation to "sexual orientation" which is something of a buzz word today. The point is not to return to an ancient thinking about sexuality, but it is important to note that when the Scripture authors condemn homosexuality, it is homosexual activity they have in mind. In our stance for truth, we cannot make blanket statements without considering all aspects of an issue. Likewise, we cannot condemn homosexual orientation, or having feelings of attraction towards members of the same-sex. These are things that happen to folks without their conscious effort (or sometimes without their desire to have them). What we are condemning is acting upon those feelings of attraction. This is the same of heterosexual orientation. We do not condemn anyone for finding a member of the opposite sex attractive, this is something that occurs to them without their conscious effort, in nearly the same manner, yet, what we condemn is acting upon those feelings, i.e. lust. It's important that we make this distinction in dealing with any sort of sexual sin but especially with homosexual sin.

The most dangerous point in this modern shift into language of "sexual orientation", which in itself is not bad, and accurately describes the nature of our sexual desires, to some extent, is that people have begun to assume their identities based upon their sexual orientation. This is the thing that we need to address when discussing homosexuality, and all sexual sin. The temptation as Christians, and as human beings in general, is to focus on those who are different and make them seem to be more "bad" than they truly are. Those who struggle with same-sex attraction are not more "evil" than anyone else, we are all equally sinful, and all of our sins are equally evil in the sight of God. It is convenient, at times, to cast the "bad guy" role onto those struggling with this sin because it makes it easier for others to ignore their own sins, even sexual sins. The trouble is that everyone has sinned sexually, whether they admit it or not. Lust, pre-marital sex, and pornography are just as bad as homosexuality and as equally damaging to the person and their mental and physical health. Divorce and remarriage is as equally sinful and harmful as acting upon homosexuality, not to mention a host of other sins, pride, greed, gluttony, and dishonesty. These are issues that need to be addressed in the same manner and with the same energy that is put into combatting homosexuality.

The use of sexual orientation as an identity is a huge problem and it makes addressing these issues from a biblical perspective equally difficult. The thing that we must understand is that when we say that "homosexuality is a sin", to a person struggling with homosexuality, who identifies as gay, this is the same thing as saying "you are particularly sinful", with the emphasis we place on homosexual sin it seems as if we are saying that they are especially sinful, when they are just as sinful as everyone else. This over-emphasis, culturally and in the church, on sex is a major problem and leads to this sort of thinking for all persons. The thing that needs to be addressed, before addressing the sinfulness of homosexual activity, is the basis of our identity in Christ Jesus and our own sinfulness. The "otherness" of persons suffering from same-sex attraction can easily be used as a mechanism for ignoring our own faults.

This is why we need extra careful not adopt the language of sexual orientation in identifying people. I do not identify as "straight", I identify as "male", for Scripture says, "male and female created he them; and blessed them", this is because my identity as a Christian and as a human being is not defined by my sexual preferences or desires, however pure or not they may be, but by my relationship to God in Christ. Moreover, beyond this, we are Christ's through his sacrifice on our behalf. We are no longer condemned because he has loved us in this manner. We have to realize that we are not identified by our sexual preferences, but by our relationship to God. When we put this in the proper perspective, we can see that God has created males and females, which he designed to be sexually compatible, this is within the divine plan and natural order.

I think the main point I wished to convey has already been expressed but just for thoroughness, we must look at the so-called "seven verses", those which directly address the issue of homosexuality. The trouble with trying to address this issue in any sort of moderation is that both "sides" tend to criticize you. The liberals think that I am not being gracious enough in my consideration of the issue and conservatives think that I am not dealing seriously enough with homosexuality.

I will briefly mention the Old Testament verses that condemn homosexual activity, but will not focus on them, instead focusing more on the New Testament texts (also in a break with tradition, I will be using the English Standard Version of the Bible in this post).

The two places in the Old Testament where homosexual activity is explicitly condemned are found in the book of Leviticus, besides the story of Lot and the men of Sodom in Gen. 19:1-11:
You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination. (18:22) 
If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them. (20:13)
When we turn to the New Testament, we have further explicit condemnation of sexual activity, which is found in the Epistles of the Apostle Paul:

For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.
And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done (Rom. 1:26-28). 
Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:9-10). 
understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine (1 Tim. 1:9-10).
Recently, the Hackney Hub has been learning some New Testament Greek, which has come in handy in dealing with this issue. There is some contention about the use of the words here by the Apostle and what he had in mind with these terms. I will quote here the Greek word used for "men who practice homosexuality" (as it is translated here in the ESV).
ἀρσενοκοίτης (arsenokoitēs 733)
1. abusers of themselves with mankind
(from ἄρσης (arsēs), a male; and κοίτη (koitē 2845), a bed).
2. defile one's self with mankind
(from ἄρσην (arsēn) a male, and κοίτη (koitē 2845) a bed) (this specific meaning occurs only in 1Co 6:9).
ἀρσενοκοίτης (arsenokoitēs, 733), -ου, ὁ, (ἄρσην a male;κοίτη a bed), one who lies with a male as with a female, a sodomite: 1 Co. vi. 9; 1 Tim. i. 10. (Anthol. 9, 686, 5; eccl. writ.) [This definition cites every instance of this word in the Greek NT.]
I will be relying on some remarks from Dr Robert Gagnon ( in my observations here. This Greek term was coined by the Apostle looking back to the Levitical prohibitions against homosexual activity -- it is a word not found in other Greek texts because of its origin. I do not wish to stay on this point for too long of a time but I do wish to point out that in taking a gracious 'pastoral' response to homosexuality, we must remember and never fail to proclaim that it is sinful. The temptation is to ignore the sinfulness of the activity in our dealing with people we know who experience these temptations (or act upon them).

The substance of my point was made earlier in the post but I hope that this brief look at the Scriptures will cement in your mind the issue at stake. The simple truth is that homosexuality is not a healthy option, as can be seen in many places, for instance the CDC. The rate of STDs is drastically higher in this community than in other communities (yet not confined to this community, obviously). The life expectancy of this group of people is lower than the average person, moreover, depression and suicide are more frequent amongst them. This should concern all persons, not just Christian people. We must realize that these are natural consequences of breaking natural law, as we have all broken, yet we must not give in when our culture questions the truth of God's Word. However, in our defense of that truth, we must not forget that God is a God of love and grace as well as of mercy and justice.