Sunday, June 22, 2014

Why I Don't Make the Sign of the Cross

Many Protestants have grown comfortable with making the sign of cross as a part of their piety. Whilst I do not wish to doubt their genuineness, nor their conscience in doing so, I wanted to outline briefly the reasons for which I do not make the sign of cross, either in public or private worship. The reasons for not doing so are three in number and broadly relate to three types of concerns: 1) theological; 2) liturgical; 3) practical.

Briefly, a distinction must be made between two forms of the sign of the cross. The first is a liturgical action in the sacrament of Baptism, performed by the priest, to mark the sign of regeneration to the infant. This is a different sort of symbol and not to be discarded (for more information and an explanation of its value, see Canon 30 of the Canons of 1604). The other is the form that most think of when hearing the words "sign of the cross", made by the hand touching the forehead and crossing over from shoulder to shoulder. This latter practice is the subject of this post.

The sign of the Cross is associated with the Roman Catholic idea of sacramentals, which is implicitly tied to their understanding of works salvation. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, "Sacramentals do not confer the grace of the Holy Spirit in the way that the sacraments do, but by the Church’s prayer, they prepare us to receive grace and dispose us to cooperate with it." In other words, the sacramentals are an invitation to cooperate with God's grace, implying the power of our wills to do good independent of God's grace (only needing His help, not utter dependence upon Him). The Catechism specifically mentions the sign of the Cross, "Among sacramentals blessings (of persons, meals, objects, and places) come first. Every blessing praises God and prays for his gifts. In Christ, Christians are blessed by God the Father “with every spiritual blessing.”177 This is why the Church imparts blessings by invoking the name of Jesus, usually while making the holy sign of the cross of Christ." The Sign of the Cross is more explicitly linked to works righteousness in another manner. In the 1968, Enchiridion of Indulgences, the Roman Church grants, "A partial indulgence is granted to the faithful, who devoutly sign themselves with the sign of the cross, while saying the customary words: In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen." The system of indulgences is a fictitious system whereby the works of one believer can be applied to another to decrease the amount of time spent in Purgatory, the whole of this system is rightly called "repugnant" to Scripture by our Formularies and should be avoided at all costs.

The second reason I do not make the sign of the Cross is what I call a liturgical objection. The point of Anglican worship is to be simple and easy to follow. The nature of the sign of the Cross is not simple or easy to follow. One would think that it would be but once the works righteousness is attached to an action, it acquires a life of its own and multiplies in use, because it is viewed as a means of salvation. For this reason, the sign of the cross multiplies in occurrences in the divine service. It can occur many times in the Episcopal liturgy, at the invocation of the Trinity, at the Gospel, at the Creed, before and after the Sermon, at the mention of the "prayers for the dead (which is another issue entirely), at the consecration, before and after receiving, at the end of the service. This is mind-boggling and impossible for the simple person to follow. It complicates the service and adds a layer of superstition and distraction to the worshipper.

Thirdly, I do not make the sign of the Cross for practical reasons. The sign of the Cross is popularly associated with Roman Catholicism. Now, this is not reason enough to reject something but it is enough to allow it for consideration. It is not only associated with Roman Catholicism in general but folk Catholicism in particular. By this I mean it is associated with nominal Catholicism or those who are not particularly practicing but wish to maintain some sense of "Catholic identity". I can speak from personal experience when friends of mine who are not particularly devout will make the sign to convey some vague sense of spirituality. It is associated in the nominal mind with works righteousness and "balancing the books" with God. For this reason, it points to man as the source of salvation and not to God in Christ and for me, this is reason enough to not practice it.

A note must be added at the end as to how the sign of the Cross even became an issue for Anglican Protestants. It was rejected at the Reformation (except for its inclusion in the Baptismal service). It was only revived when a certain group of priests and churchmen began to re-introduce it illegally and consequently breaking their ordination vows. In England, it was both illegal by ecclesiastical and secular law, and punishable by the courts. In the United States it was not allowed by ecclesiastical law, yet in both cases, these priests disobeyed both the civil authorities and the Church in reintroducing this custom.

Monday, June 9, 2014

The Homilies on Prayers to the Dead

Of Prayers for the Dead

Now to entreat of that question, whether we ought to pray for them that are departed out of this world, or no. Wherein if we will cleave only unto the word of God, then must we needs grant, that we have no commandment so to do. For the Scripture doth acknowledge but two places after this life, the one proper to the elect and blessed of God, the other to the reprobate and damned souls; as may be well gathered by the parable of Lazarus [Luke 16:[19–26].] and the rich man. Which place St. Augustine expounding saith on this wise: “That which Abraham speaketh unto the rich man in Luke’s Gospel, namely, that the just cannot go into those places where the wicked are tormented, what other things doth it signify but only this, that the just, by reason of God’s judgment, which may not be revoked, can shew no deed of mercy in helping them which after this life are cast into prison until they pay the uttermost farthing?” These words, as they confound the opinion of helping the dead by prayer, so they do clean confute and take away the vain error of purgatory, which is grounded upon this saying of the Gospel [Matt. 5:26]: Thou shalt not depart thence, until thou hast paid the uttermost farthing. Now doth St. Augustine say, that those men which are cast into prison after this life on that condition may in no wise be holpen, though we would help them never so much. And why? Because the sentence of God is unchangeable, and cannot be revoked again. Therefore let us not deceive ourselves, thinking that either we may help other, or other may help us by their good and charitable prayers in time to come. For, as the Preacher saith [Eccles. 11:[3].], when the tree falleth, whether it be toward the south, or toward the north, in what place soever the tree falleth, there it lieth; meaning thereby, that every mortal man dieth either in the state of salvation or damnation, according as the words of the Evangelist John do also plainly import, saying [John 3:[36].], He that believeth on the Son of God hath eternal life; but he that believeth not on the Son shall never see life, but the wrath of God abideth upon him. Where is then the third place, which they call purgatory? or where shall our prayers help and profit the dead? St. Augustine doth only acknowledge two places after this life, heaven and hell. As for the third place, he doth plainly deny that there is any such to be found in all Scripture. Chrysostom likewise is of this mind, that, unless we wash away our sins in this present world, we shall find no comfort afterward.4 And St. Cyprian saith, that after death5 “repentance and sorrow of pain shall be without fruit; weeping also shall be in vain, and prayer shall be to no purpose.” Therefore he counselleth all men to make provision for themselves while they may, because, “when they are once departed out of this life, there is no place for repentance, nor yet for satisfaction.” Let these and such other places be sufficient to take away the gross error of purgatory out of our heads; neither let us dream any more that the souls of the dead are anything at all holpen by our prayers: but, as the Scripture teacheth us, let us think that the soul of man, passing out of the body, goeth straightways either to heaven or else to hell, whereof the one needeth no prayer, and the other is without redemption. (p. 335-37)

Monday, June 2, 2014

The Doctrines of Grace and the Anglican Church

The doctrines of grace, colloquially known as Calvinism, or the biblical teaching on the nature of man and God's election of individuals to salvation through Christ, is usually a contentious topic of discussion. This is really no surprise. Truth rings like a cymbal in the mind of a fallen sinner. Nonetheless, the nature of these truths must be discussed in order to both understand more fully the teaching of Scripture and for Anglicans, to understand more fully the teaching of our own Church.

Briefly, Reformed theology is often summarized with the acronym, TULIP, which is not always the best acronym but it is the more commonly used one. It more commonly stands for the following (with common exceptions in parentheses):

Total depravity (Total Inability)
Unconditional Election
Limited Atonement (Particular Redemption)
Irresistible Grace (Effectual Calling)
Perseverance of the Saints

It must be remembered that TULIP is a modern invention. Additionally, the so-called "five points of Calvinism" were not meant to be the summary of Calvinistic theology. However, in response to the five points of the Remonstrants, the Ecumenical Council of Dort drew up a response to these five points. The judgement of the Synod of Dort can be read here.

The Church of England's teaching on these matters comes in two of her articles. In must be remembered that the Articles of Religion predate the Synod of Dort in 1619. In this sense, her articles are not as precise as the later judgements of the Council would be. However, it must be remembered that the Church of England participated in the Synod and proclaimed that the teaching of Dort was consistent with her own teaching on election.

The first point, total depravity, or as it is more appropriately called, total inability, is taught in two of the Articles of Religion. Briefly, this statement does not mean that each man is as evil as he can be but that his state is such after the Fall of Adam that he has no desire or ability in his natural state to turn to God for salvation. In this sense, his salvation is dependent upon God acting on his behalf.
IX. Of Original or Birth-sin
Original Sin standeth not in the following of Adam, (as the Pelagians do vainly talk;) but it is the fault and corruption of the Nature of every man, that naturally is engendered of the offspring of Adam; whereby man is very far gone from original righteousness, and is of his own nature inclined to evil, so that the flesh lusteth always contrary to the spirit; and therefore in every person born into this world, it deserveth God's wrath and damnation. And this infection of nature doth remain, yea in them that are regenerated; whereby the lust of the flesh, called in Greek φρόνημα σαρκὸς, which some do expound the wisdom, some sensuality, some the affection, some the desire, of the flesh, is not subject to the Law of God. And although there is no condemnation for them that believe and are baptizedm yet the Apostle doth confess, that concupiscence and lust hath of itself the nature of sin.

X. Of Free-Will
The condition of Man after the fall of Adam is such, that he cannot turn and prepare himself, by his own natural strength and good works, to faith, and calling upon God: Wherefore we have no power to do good works pleasant and acceptable to God, without the grace of God by Christ preventing us, that we may have a good will, and working with us, when we have that good will.
Article 9 touches on the nature of original sin, which is passed on through each generation. Article 10 touches on the nature of our wills as inherently not free. The second article here presents the teaching of total inability. A note, the word prevent here does not have the modern connotation of stopping something from happening but rather means something like "coming before". With this in mind, we see that our Church clearly teaches that men are not able to turn to God in their natural state but must be regenerated by the grace of God in order to be able to turn to him in faith. This resonates with what the Synod taught, "Therefore, all men are conceived in sin, and born the children of wrath, indisposed (inepti) to all saving good, propense to evil, dead in sins, and the slaves of sin; and, without the grace of the regenerating Holy Spirit, they neither are willing nor able to return to God, to correct their depraved nature, or to dispose themselves to the correction of it." The Synod goes on to teach, "But, when God performs his good pleasure in his elect, or works in them true conversion, he not only provides that the Gospel should be outwardly preached to them, and that their mind should be powerfully illuminated by the Holy Spirit, that they may rightly understand, and judge what are the things of the Spirit of God; but he also by the efficacy of the same regenerating Spirit, penetrates into the innermost recesses of man, opens his closed heart, softens his obdurate heart, circumcises his uncircumcised heart, infuses new qualities into his will, makes that which had been dead alive, that which was evil good, that which had been unwilling willing, and from being refractory, obedient; and leads and strengthens it, that, as a good tree, it may be able to bring forth the fruit of good works." 

The bulk of our Church's teaching on the matter is found in Article 17, which is also the longest of the Articles:
XVII. Of Predestination and Election
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 honour. Wherefore they which be endued with so excellent a benefit of God be called according to God's purpose by his Spirit working in due season: they through grace obey the calling: they be justified freely: they be made sons of God by adoption: they be made like the image of his only-begotten Son Jesus Christ: they walk religiously in good works, and at length, by God's mercy they attain to everlasting felicity.

As the godly consideration of Predestination, and our Election in Christ, is full of sweet, pleasant, and unspeakable comfort to godly persons and such as feel in themselves the working of the Spirit of Christ, mortifying the works of the flesh, and their earthly members, and drawing up their mind to high and heavenly things, as well because it doth greatly establish and confirm their faith of eternal salvation to be enjoyed through Christ, as because it doth fervently kindle their love towards God: so for curious and carnal persons, lacking the Spirit of Christ, to have continually before their eyes the sentence of God's Predestination, is a most dangerous downfall, whereby the Devil doth thrust them either into desperation, or into wretchlessness of most unclean living, no less perilous than desperation.

Furthermore, we must receive God's promises in such wise, as they be generally set forth in holy Scripture: and, in our doings, that will of God is to be followed, which we have expressly declared unto us in the Word of God. 
In this article, we find the Church's teaching on predestination to life, or election, on effectual calling, and on the perseverance of the saints.

Many wonder about so-called "double predestination" or the idea that God predestinates both the elect and the reprobate. Whilst there is a good amount of theological discussion about this point, our Articles do not expound upon that point in any great detail (yet, our Church was in agreement with Dort…). However, as to predestination to life, our Church has a great deal to say.

The first sentence of the Article lays out clearly the doctrine of election. In similar language, the Canons of Dort state:
Election is the immutable purpose of God, by which, before the foundations of the world were laid, he chose, out of the whole human race, fallen by their own fault from their primeval integrity into sin and destruction, according to the most free good pleasure of his own will, and of mere grace, a certain number of men, neither better nor worthier than others, but lying in the same misery with the rest, to salvation in Christ; whom he had, even from eternity, constituted Mediator and Head of all the elect, and the foundation of salvation; and therefore he decreed to give them unto him to be saved; and effectually to call and draw them into communion with him, by his own word and Spirit; or he decreed himself to give unto them true faith, to justify, to sanctify, and at length powerfully to glorify them, having been kept in the communion of his Son; to the demonstration of his mercy, and the praise of the riches of his glorious grace.
The first paragraph of this Article reflects the "golden chain" as it is often called of salvation, as found in Paul's Letter to the Romans:
For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. (Rom. 8:29-30)
This Article relates God's predestination before the foundation of the world, whereby he chose out of mankind a certain number to be saved. This is beyond our comprehension, yet, we confess it to be true because it is taught in Holy Scripture.

The Article also affirms effectual calling and the perseverance of the saints, although in less precise language. First, consider this statement, "Wherefore they which be endued with so excellent a benefit of God be called according to God's purpose by his Spirit working in due season: they through grace obey the calling" in this portion of the Article, we are taught that those who are chosen in Christ are brought to be justified by him through the power of the Spirit. This is the essence of this teaching, that all who are elected by Christ will be brought to salvation in him.

The latter part of the first paragraph of the Article affirms the doctrine of assurance, or perseverance of the saints, whereby those who are elected by God will be called, justified, sanctified, and eventually glorified. This means that true believers will not fall away from God's grace because they are protected by his Holy Spirit to remain in him.

Another testimony can be had in regards to Calvinism in the Anglican Church, which is beyond what the Church itself teaches (which, honestly, should be enough to convince anyone, but Anglicans are known for disregarding their Church's teaching in open rebellion) and that is the testimony of countless Anglicans themselves, who in obedience upheld their Church's teaching, rather than apostatizing.

To begin, one only need to look at the Reformers themselves. Cranmer, Ridley, Latimer, from the earliest days upheld the biblical doctrines of grace and wrote them into our Church's Formularies. Later, Jewell, Hooker, Ussher, Davenant, Whitgift, Grindal, among others were the Elizabethan and Jacobean bishops who upheld the faith in the second and third generations of the English Reformation. It was during this time that the "Calvinist Consensus" of the Anglican Church existed, when everyone was essentially in agreement with what our Church actually teaches. There were others, of course, during this period, granted, as the name implies, nearly every Anglican clergyman was a Calvinist during this time.

The English Civil War and Restoration was not particularly a strong time in the religious life of England. A form of moralism took over the Established Church and was only overcome by the work of  the religious societies and the Evangelical Revival. Men such as William Grimshaw, Henry Venn, William Romaine, John Newton, Thomas Haweis, George Whitefield, among many others, upheld the Church's doctrine in the 18th century against this spirit of moralism and rationalism. This generation would set the stage for the 19th century movement with all of its spiritual giants, such as Charles Simeon, JC Ryle, and countless others.

Let us not forget the New World. The Evangelical Movement took off in the Episcopal Church with a number of early bishops espousing the Reformed doctrine of the Church of England. Men such as Gregory Thurston Bedell, Manton Eastburn, Alexander Viets Griswold, Charles Pettit McIlvaine, William Meade, Benjamin Moore, Richard Channing Moore, Leonidas Polk, Benjamin Bosworth Smith, and others upheld a Scriptural witness in the Protestant Episcopal Church, together with priests such as James Milnor, the Tyngs, and other priests, not to mention prominent laymen, such as John Jay and Francis Scott Key.

This is not a comprehensive list, far from it, but only a brief mention of some of the names of those men and women who upheld the Church of England's teaching in their own time. May a new generation of men and women rise up to do the same today.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

The Sabbath: A Day to Keep (J.C. Ryle)

There is a subject in the present day which demands the serious attention of all professing Christians in the United Kingdom. That subject is the Christian Sabbath, or Lord’s Day.

It is a subject which is forced upon our notice. The minds of many are agitated by questions arising out of it. “Is the observance of a Sabbath binding on Christians? Have we any right to tell a man that to do his business or seek his pleasure on a Sunday is a sin? Is it desirable to open places of public amusement on the Lord’s Day?” All these are questions that are continually asked. They are questions to which we ought to be able to give a decided answer.

The subject is one on which “divers and strange doctrines” abound. Statements are continually made about Sunday, which plain unsophisticated readers of the Bible find it impossible to reconcile with the Word of God. If these statements proceeded only from the ignorant and irreligious part of the world, the defenders of the Sabbath would have no reason to be surprised. But they may well wonder when they find educated and religious persons among their adversaries. It is a melancholy truth that in some quarters the Sabbath is wounded by those who ought to be its best friends.

The subject is one which is of immense importance. It is not too much to say that the prosperity or decay of organized Christianity depends on the maintenance of the Christian Sabbath. Break down the fence which now surrounds the Sunday, and our Sunday schools will soon come to an end. Let in the Hood of worldliness and pleasure-seeking on the Lord’s Day, without check or hindrance, and our congregations will soon dwindle away. There is not too much religion in the land now. Destroy the sanctity of the Sabbath, and there would soon be far less. Nothing in short, I believe, would so thoroughly advance the kingdom of Satan as to withdraw legal protection from the Lord’s Day. It would be a joy to the infidel; but it would be an insult and offence to God.

I ask the attention of all professing Christians, while I try to say a few plain words on the subject of the Sabbath. As a minister of Christ, a father of a family, and a lover of my country, I feel bound to plead on behalf of the old Christian Sunday. My sentence is emphatically expressed in the words of Scripture — let us “keep it holy.” My advice to all Christians is to contend earnestly for the whole day against all enemies, both without and within. It is worth a struggle.

There are four points in connection with the Sabbath, which require examination. On each of these I wish to offer a few remarks.

Read the rest here.