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.


Unknown said...

Jordan, The leanings of Calvinism have always seemed counter intuitive to me. I understand your reasoning through Romans, but How do we square this belief with the story of Israel in the old testament, or with a robust emphasis on God as Creator, or with Jesus who loved sinners? If these major themes can be proved to hold tension against classical Calvinism, then what is Calvinisms value? Does it distract from these themes? Should we search Paul for a simpler explanation?

I am kinda working off of gut feelings here, and I'm not bringing sniper arguments. I wish I could be more concise. I am working at this more big-picture, less systematic, more looking at the players in this play and trying to make sense of it.

With Israel, I will try and state it more directly: Through out the OT God relates to them as if some level of "rightness" can be attained. And though the law seems tedious to us, the OT God does not require perfection. We read Paul as dismissing this claim. But is Paul able to do that without making the breaking the OT? Are we forcing the texts?

Similarly, Jesus seems to act toward sinners as if they can change. And now he has called us to act as he did. Does Calvinism engender this call?

Finally, and perhaps most pertinent, if we understand God as all powerful creator, then is Calvinism an indictment on His character? I suggest that it is, particularly if we understand judgement to be eternal suffering. I suggest that Paul, in Romans, could not be expounding eternal suffering, especially since he plainly explains that he is arguing in God's defense. Taking Paul's words at face value, a creator who "destroys" his creation, is very different than one who tortures his creation. I argue then, what is the point of Calvinism if it's eternal suffering is taken away from it's main proof texts. Why would the whole systematization even matter? Are the TULIP verses really taking the Jewish context to heart? Are we sure it is not pulling us instead toward heresy such as gnosticism or dualism?

That's best challenge I can give you old boy. cheers

The Hackney Hub said...

Just to clarify the point of the post was not a biblical justification of Reformed theology but an historical account of what the Anglican Church has historically believed. I did not intend to really justify the points of Calvinism in the piece -- which would be another endeavor entirely.

I think you justify Calvinism in your first paragraph when you mention "Jesus who loved sinners", this is the key of Reformed theology. The key to understanding the graciousness of predestination is to understand the spiritual condition of man as a consequence of the Fall, which is to say that he is spiritually dead in sin and incapable of turning to God by his own will. In this sense, the mercy of God is most evident in Calvinism in its understanding of God's active involvement in our salvation for no other reason than grace and mercy.

This is where I cannot adopt the Arminian position because I believe the Scriptures to teach the deadness of man in transgression. In this sense, a God who does not involve himself in man's salvation is a merciless one.

There probably is some merit in considering election as a more communal activity rather than the type of individualism found in American churches, though. There are various approaches to this from what I understand in various forms of "ecclesiastical election", i.e. focusing on the election of the community rather than exclusively upon the election of individuals. However, especially considering the OT, we see God's dual election of both individuals and the community.

There is of course some level of mystery and paradox to it all that can't really be fully discerned until kingdom come but I think Reformed theology gets much closer to the mark than Arminianism for mostly the reasons enumerated above.

Unknown said...

The Arminianism that you characterize here is a poor caricature. Where have you assumed this from? Arminianism affirms what you said about mans spiritual deadness in sin. The points that I made, should still stand. Calvinism is a foreign system which is imposed on the Bible against the Jewish tradition, which the biblical authors spoke from. It makes no sense to say that Jesus "loves sinners" if we cannot expect that his attitude, detailed in the narrative of the gospels, which plainly expects a "free will," was not true. That is a free will granted by God through previenent grace. I suggest that you read more Arminian theologians like Roger Olson. His argument "Against Calvinism" graciously exposes Calvinism for what it is, through the words of it's chief proponents. From the perspective of one, who just wants to read Jesus as good and through an gracious OT lens, Aligning the Anglican tradition through Piper, or Sproul or Calvin would be a mistake. Please explore the Arminian side further.