Friday, March 28, 2014

Why I am an Anglican

Over the course of interacting with various people via the World Wide Web or through personal interaction, I have come to realize that a good proportion (if not a majority) of the people in our churches have joined Anglicanism for the wrong reasons. Indeed, quite a few haven't a clue what Anglicanism is (of course, this is not their fault, how can one be expected to know what their clergy do not?). The purpose of this brief essay will be to explain the reasons for which I have embraced the Anglican tradition as my own.

1. Its doctrine conforms to the teaching of Scripture

The only reason for which one should embrace the Church's teaching is that it faithfully aligns with the teaching of Holy Scripture. This is the means by which doctrine is established in the Church of England (and, by extension, her daughter Churches throughout the world). As is prefixed to the Articles of Religion in His Majesty's Declaration:
That the Articles of the Church of England (which have been allowed and authorized heretofore, and which our clergy generally have subscribed unto) do contain the true doctrine of the Church of England agreeable to God's word: which we do therefore ratify and confirm, requiring all our loving subjects to continue in the uniform profession thereof, and prohibiting the least difference from the said Articles; which to that end we command to be new printed, and this our declaration to be published therewith...
Yet, not only are the Articles of Religion agreeable to God's Word (and for this reason, and this reason only, to be accepted by the Church) but also the acceptance of other traditional statements of faith, such as the Creed, is subjected to the same requirement:
The three Creeds, Nicene Creed, Athanasius' Creed, and that which is commonly called the Apostles' Creed, ought thoroughly to be received and believed; for they may be proved by most certain warrants of Holy Scripture (Article VIII).
God's holy and perfect Word "containeth all things necessary to salvation" and no other thing may be added to be necessary to salvation that is not contained in the Scripture, as the article continues, "so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation" (Article VI). This limits the medieval Church's (and the current Roman and Eastern Churches') understanding that the Creeds and Councils of the Church are infallible in teaching religious truth, on their own merit. They may be correct, if they agree with Scripture, and they may err, as they have, when they depart from God's Holy Word. Or as the Homily on the Reading and Knowledge of Scripture says:
Unto a Christian man there can be nothing either more necessary or profitable than the knowledge of holy Scripture; forasmuch as in it is contained God’s true word, setting forth his glory and also man’s duty. And there is no truth nor doctrine necessary for our justification and everlasting salvation, but that is or may be drawn out of that fountain and well of truth. 
The Church's own authority is determined by its faithfulness to the Scriptures so that "it is not lawful for the Church to ordain anything contrary to God's word written, neither may it so expound one place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to another" (Article XX). Likewise, "General [Ecumenical] Councils… when they be gathered together, forasmuch as they be an assembly of men, whereof all be not governed with the Spirit and word of God, they may err and sometime have erred, even in things pertaining to God. Wherefore things ordained by them as necessary to salvation have neither strength nor authority, unless it may be declared that they be taken out of Holy Scripture" (Article XXI). Not only has the Church of Rome, and the Churches of the East, erred, but also the Ecumenical Councils have erred (such as the Seventh Council at Nicea).

Scripture is the Word of God (note, it does not only contain but is in its entirety). It is without error and leads men to all necessary things for salvation. Is the Word of God to be found in other places besides Scripture, such as the Church, Tradition, or Reason? No, these are not the Word of God but are below it and rely upon it for their authority. Is the Word of God comprehensible to the average man? Yes, it can be interpreted by even the lowest of all men for its truths are self-evident and discernible by reading the whole of it. 

These assertions show the faithfulness of the Church of England and the Anglican tradition that stems from it, to the teaching of Holy Scripture. It is for this reason that the doctrine of the Church of England may be trusted in all of its declarations.

What are these declarations? What is the Scriptural truth that our Formularies so boldly proclaim?

First, the Anglican tradition is unabashedly Protestant in its doctrine, that meaning patristic, apostolic, and Scriptural. The Protestant Reformation was a conscientiously reactionary movement to an increasingly liberal Roman Catholic Church. Its intent was to return the Church to the truth of the Scripture as found in the early Church in its faithful believers and teaching. This includes the glorious truth of the reliability of Holy Scripture, as detailed above, the marvelous grace of our God through the atoning sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which grace alone we come to know God through Christ. Grace, as the Bible teaches, and which was so lamentably lost in the Middle Ages, is the unmerited favor of God to act on our behalf and to provide the means by which we may turn to Him, through no merit of our own but only by His power and grace. The means by which we receive him is faith, and faith alone. By faith is meant a childlike trust in God as our Father and in the work He has done for us through his Son Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. By this means, and by this alone, may we come to know Him and glorify Him through our lives.

The Anglican tradition is unabashedly Reformed, in the Calvinistic sense of the word, by its adherence to the aforementioned points and in its upholding of the biblical doctrines of predestination and election. Our Article XVII boldly proclaims the truth of this doctrine by saying most eloquently:
Predestination to Life is the everlasting purpose of God, whereby (before the foundations of the world were laid) he hath constantly decreed by his counsel secret to us, to deliver from curse and damnation those whom he hath chosen in Christ out of mankind, and to bring them by Christ to everlasting salvation, as vessels made to honor (Article XVII).
We should all pause and rejoice in this truth. Were it not for the unmerited favor of God in his grace towards us, there would be no hope for salvation. As the Scriptures teach, man has so wholly rejected God by his sin, intentional and unintentional, that there is no one who desires God of his own merit. For this reason, we rejoice in God's intervention on our behalf and his turning us to Him by the power of His Spirit. 

The Anglican tradition continues in its acceptance of the one true Reformed religion (as established by law in England) in its rightful teaching on the Sacraments, which are two in number, Baptism and Holy Communion, and effectual means of grace, when received worthily in faith. The Sacraments themselves are signs by which God works on our behalf. In Baptism, God accepts us as members of His Covenant and begins His work in us (completed in our response to Him in faith). In the Lord's Supper, our Church rightfully teaches that Christ is present to believers by faith (and not in the bread and wine). 

Our Church is also Evangelical in its teaching of the responsibility of personal conversion in our turning to God by grace through faith to save us by the sacrifice of Christ. The necessity of spreading the message of the Gospel of salvation by faith alone is a call to personal conversion. 

2. Its worship preserves the good of the historical Church yet it rejects that which is not Scriptural.

Not only is the doctrine of the Church of England Scriptural and worthy of belief, but its worship biblical and historical. This was the wisdom of Archbishop Cranmer in his reform of the English Church, by God's Providence.

This is often known as the normative principle of worship, as it is contained in our Church's Formularies:
It is not necessary that Traditions and Ceremonies be in all places one, or utterly like; for at all times they have been divers, and may be changed according to the diversity of countries, times, and men's manners, so that nothing be ordained against God's Word. Whosoever, through his private judgment, willingly and purposely, doth openly break the Traditions and Ceremonies of the Church, which be not repugnant to the Word of God, and be ordained and approved by common authority, ought to be rebuked openly, (that others may fear to do the like,) as he that offendeth against the common order of the Church, and hurteth the authority of the Magistrate, and woundeth the consciences of the weak brethren.
This teaching gives our Church the liberty to allow diversity in worship, so long as it does not contradict the teaching of Scripture. It also has preserved the structure of the historic Church, whilst rejecting those things that had crept up into the life of the Church via foreign and pagan sources. The nature of the Church's teaching requires that what is approved by public authority be used and not that each minister be a Pope unto himself, devising liturgies as he please. Our Church is a Church of order and not anarchy.

 The nature of our worship is ritualistic but not ceremonialistic, meaning that it prescribes the exact wording of the services to be conducted in Church but does not allow for an elaborate ceremonial. The nature of our Prayer Book is simplistic, enough so that the common man may use it with confidence. The purpose is not to distract worshippers from God by showy gestures but to concentrate him on God's goodness through constant exposure to Scripture and non-superstitous ceremonial.

3. Its discipline is biblical, historical, and pragmatic

The discipline of the Church are those things that the Church requires for its worship or other matters which do not pertain to its doctrine but the manner in which it orders itself. As the Article says:
Every particular or national Church hath authority to ordain, change, and abolish, Ceremonies or Rites of the Church ordained only by man's authority, so that all things be done to edifying.
The most famous aspects of Anglican discipline are the episcopacy and liturgy. The nature of our worship was discussed above but the episcopacy has not been mentioned as of yet. The nature of episcopacy is mentioned in the Ordinal:
It is evident unto all men diligently reading holy Scripture and ancient Authors, that from the Apostles' time there have been these Orders of Ministers in Christ's Church; Bishops, Priests, and Deacons. Which Offices were evermore had in such reverend Estimation, that no man might presume to execute any of them, except he were first called, tried, examined, and known to have such qualities as are requisite for the same; and also by publick Prayer, with Imposition of Hands, were approved and admitted thereunto by lawful Authority. And therefore, to the intent that these Orders may be continued, and reverently used and esteemed in the Church of England, no man shall be accounted or taken to be a lawful Bishop, Priest, or Deacon, in the Church of England, or suffered to execute any of the said Functions, except he be called, tried, examined, and admitted thereunto, according to the Form hereafter following, or hath had Episcopal Consecration, or Ordination.
The purpose of maintaining the episcopacy was to note that it was for the well-being o the Church in the Apostolic age and it does not contradict the teaching of Scripture. It is good the ministers have some form of oversight over their cure of parishes. The Church of England historically allows two perspectives on the nature of orders in the Church. Some accept that there are two biblical orders of presbyter and deacon. The nature of the episcopacy is presidential in function, not in essence. This means that a deacon and minister are ordained to an order but a bishop is consecrated to an office. The other point of view is that there are three distinct orders: bishop, presbyter, and deacon. The Church of England rightly rejects the sacerdotalism of pagan religion. There is but one High Priest, Jesus Christ, and all believers are his priests in the world. The nature of the ministry is presbyteral, a ministry of elders, called to teach, preach, and administer the Sacraments. This shows the wisdom of the Church of England in maintaining the ministry of bishops but rejecting a false understanding of the nature of it.

These three general principles demonstrate the faithfulness of Anglican doctrine to the Scripture, the rightness of its worship and its discipline in connecting it to the historic Church whilst rejecting the errors of Rome and the East.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Restoring Reformational Anglicanism

From the ACNA Diocese of the Carolinas, a useful summary and defense of Reformational Anglicanism.

What is Reformation Anglicanism?
Perhaps the easiest way to describe Reformation Anglicanism is simply by defining the words. By “reformation,” we mean that expression of the Christian faith that arose in the 16thcentury, commonly called the Protestant Reformation, which sought to reform the church according to the teaching of the Bible and the practice of the early church. By “Anglican,” we mean those Christian reforms that took place in England during the Protestant Reformation.

There is of course more to be said and we hope to say much more in the future. For now it may be useful to set forth a few boundary markers to help identify partners and shape future dialogue.
Read the rest here.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Anglican Separatism

There seems to be a rather peculiar breed of new English Separatists making noise in the English-speaking world, particularly North America. Unfortunately, they have a much less comprehensible vision than the original lot. This new breed wishes to criticize the mainline Anglican church, be it in England, the US, or Canada, for not being a pure church, by design obviously, yet, the new English Separatist does not willfully separate himself from the Anglican body and set up his own congregation, taking out the bits he did not like from Anglicanism, as he would have in times past. Rather, the new breed does leave but he takes everything with him, Prayer Book and all. He uses the same Prayer Book, the same surplice, the same building even, perhaps. He takes an "established" Church with him into Dissent and tries to make it into an Anabaptistic sort of sect. It is truly an odd combination, wanting to combine the means of having an "impure" Church, such as infant baptism and other things, with a separatistic tendency towards the "pure" Church concept.

I will offer two thoughts on this trajectory I've noticed. First, extending on the pure/impure distinction I mentioned in the above paragraph, I will relate this to Article 26 and the traditional and historical Anglican norm. Secondly, I will discuss a concept I call "guilt by association" which I have noticed in many of the people I've spoken with having these separatistic tendencies.

First, beginning with our Church's teaching on the nature of wicked ministers, which is contained in Article 26. This follows the traditional, Augustinian paradigm of a "wheat and tares" Church, that meaning that the visible Church will be comprised of both godly and wicked people until the return of Christ (this is not to be confused with the "invisible Church" or the Church as God sees it).
XXVI. Of the Unworthiness of the Ministers, which hinders not the effect of the Sacraments.
Although in the visible Church the evil be ever mingled with the good, and sometimes the evil have chief authority in the Ministration of the Word and Sacraments, yet forasmuch as they do not the same in their own name, but in Christ's, and do minister by his commission and authority, we may use their Ministry, both in hearing the Word of God, and in receiving the Sacraments. Neither is the effect of Christ's ordinance taken away by their wickedness, nor the grace of God's gifts diminished from such as by faith, and rightly, do receive the Sacraments ministered unto them; which be effectual, because of Christ's institution and promise, although they be ministered by evil men.
Nevertheless, it appertaineth to the discipline of the Church, that inquiry be made of evil Ministers, and that they be accused by those that have knowledge of their offences; and finally, being found guilty, by just judgment be deposed.
The first part of this article establishes that the visible Church is comprised of both evil and good. This is due to the nature of mankind and the situation of the Church in an imperfect world. Moreover, due to the "mixed" nature of the visible Church, sometimes these wicked people will be in charge or cure of souls. However, these ministers (and all ministers) do not preach the Gospel or administer the Sacraments in their own name but in Christ's. It is for this purpose that the ministry of a wicked person is not negated because of his own name but it is effective because he works in Christ's name, this is obviously referencing the efficacy of the Sacraments. The problem of course is that the separatist is not comfortable with the mixing of good and bad (I use the word "comfortable" cautiously here, no one should be truly comfortable with this but the orthodox believer notes that the wheat and tares will share the same space until Christ's return). The separatist ideally wants a pure Church, a concept which is not attainable in this life. 

Some may say that the second part of the article requires that these ministers be deposed. Yes, it is required that "inquiry be made of evil Ministers", meaning that the believer needs to notify proper authority of these said ministers and leave the act of deposition to those in proper authority. The article does not authorize or require lay Christians to depose such ministers but to notify the authorities. Neither does it discuss what Christians are to do if an evil minister is not deposed.

The second point that separatists like to make is that of "guilt by association". This is the idea that individual Christians are personally responsible for what other Christians in their denomination, particularly leaders, have done, will do, or are doing. For instance, because I am a communicant member of an Episcopal parish, the separatist will (and have) accused me of being a godless liberal. This idea is completely ludicrous. Moreover, the separatist is not immune from this criticism himself. The teaching of the Bible is that we are responsible for our own actions and not those of others. We are to be judged for what we have done not for what our brother or sister has done. Now, if someone is in a situation where unbiblical teaching occurs or an ungodly person presides over a service or whatnot and the believer does nothing, this is something that he will be held responsible for, because it is the duty of the believer to stand up against false teaching.

The last point to be made is that being in relationship to another person (ecclesiastically speaking) does not necessarily convey complete acceptance of them or their teaching. To give an example, many in the ACNA are against the ordination of women, as a primary issue, yet they are in communion with and relationship to others who ordain women. (As an aside, by logic of the "guilt by association" argument, these people are just as guilty of sin, in their theological paradigm, as the bishop who ordains women.) If you were to approach the bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Fort Worth and accuse him of ordaining women, he would probably laugh at you. Yet, if you follow the separatist's logic, he is guilty of this, even though he has never ordained a woman. Hopefully you can see how ridiculous this type of logic is. Being in relationship to another person does not make you responsible for their actions or beliefs nor does it convey your complete acceptance of them.

I offer in closing the remarks of J.I. Packer regarding "guilt by association" in response to the call of the late Martyn Lloyd-Jones for Evangelicals to leave the "impure" Church of England and start a new, doctrinally-pure Church:
"I lived as some of you lived, through the era in which the late great Martyn Lloyd-Jones was telling us Anglicans from where he stood that we all of us ought to leave the Church of England. He had two bad arguments. He was a great man, but great men can be enmeshed in bad arguments. Bad argument number one was that if we stay in the Church of England we're guilty by association of all the theological errors that any Anglican may be propagating anywhere at all. To which of course the answer is rubbish: on that basis Paul would have been guilty of all the errors that were abroad in Corinth, in Colossae, in the Galatian churches and the Thessalonian church and elsewhere -- and of course he wasn't guilty of any of that, and why not? Simply because he entered into the discipline of debate and wrote pastoral letters to them too put them straight. As long as we are free to raise our voices against the errors and seek to correct them from within we are not guilty of them. We are negating and refusing the error, we are not acquiescing in it, we are not guilty of it. It was a sad thing that a great mind like that of the late Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones should have ever toyed with an argument as bad as this one. 
"Secondly he said, 'Don't you see that the times call us to leave all the doctrinally mixed congregations and form a pure new one.' And I and others looked around and couldn't see that the times called us to do any such thing. We asked what do the times call us to do? And it seemed clear that the times called us to stay put and work for Reformation, renewal and fresh life in the church that has this rich heritage. So when people used to ask me why are you in the Church of England when the Church of England is in such a mess today I used to reply, 'I'm in the Church of England today for the sake of what under God it might be tomorrow.'"

An Ashless Ash Wednesday for Anglicans

A reminder to Anglicans that the imposition of ashes is not associated with classical Anglicanism. The practice was banned by the Church of England under Henry VIII and not revived until the Tractarian Movement. It was the liberal service books, such as the 1979 book, that ultimately made the practice normative in the late 20th century. 

In the sixteenth century the English Reformers abolished the imposition of ashes on the heads of parishioners on Ash Wednesday due to the superstitious beliefs that had become associated with the practice. The practice was too closely tied the Medieval doctrines of attrition, auricular confession, contrition, priestlyabsolution, and penance.

The imposition of ashes was not reintroduced into the Church of England and her daughter churches until the nineteenth century and then by the Ritualists. It was one of the errors in doctrine, practice, and ritual that the Romeward Movement revived to make the Anglican Church more like the Roman Catholic Church in the hopes that they would help to affect a reunion between the Church of England and the Church of Rome.

The 1979 Book of Common Prayer popularized the practice in the Episcopal Church in the closing decades of the twentieth century.

To read more, click here.