Refuting Tract XC

In his book “Tract XC. Historically Refuted” the Rev. William Goode writes:

The position maintained by Mr. Newman, Mr. Oakley and others respecting the thirty-nine Articles, is to my mind so utterly and manifestly untenable and unreasonable, that an argument for the purpose of opposing it seems almost like on for proving that two and two do not make five. Moreover the arguments, historical deductions, extracts and references given in proof of their position are often so startlingly inaccurate as to leave one at a loss to know how they found their way into the productions of men whom we believe incapable of voluntarily misleading the reader” (page 1).

Goode continues by reasoning that many who bought into Tractarianism were reasoning backwards and “inventing suitable interpretations” which was easy to do.

The form of our worship

Does it matter how we worship God? Does anything govern the actions and rituals we perform in gathered worship? Quite often it seems that churches worship with little or no thought about the theological right or wrong of a given practice. Most of us would realize that we cannot erect a golden calf in the sanctuary and offer incense to it, but what about a cross? Are there areas of indifference, where we can do whatever we want, or must we have a command from God for everything we do?

One wing of the Reformation reacted against Roman excesses by enacting the “regulative principle” where anything not expressly stated by God should not be done. Others move in a completely opposite direction and do just about anything, so long as they have a “tradition” to fall back on that justifies the practice. Many others, perhaps the majority, just do whatever they grew up with and add a dollop or two of whatever the cool church in town does.

Peter Leithart offers a convincing, Biblical way forward in his book From Silence to Song. He says:

…a word must be said at this point about the hermeneutical assumptions underlying the Reformed “regulative principle of worship.” In the hands of at least some writers, the regulative principle is, in practice, hermeneutically wooden and theologically Marcionite. It is wooden because an explicit “command” is required for every act of worship, and it is Marcionite because it ignores the abundant Old Testament liturgical instruction in favor of exegeting a few passages of the New.

He says later:

I adhere to the regulative principle in the sense that we are to worship God as He has taught us to worship Him, but He has taught us in myriads of ways, and not merely in explicit commands.

Using syllogisms, Leithart shows how strict regulativists contrast with how David approached worship:

Major premise: Whatever is not commanded is forbidden.
Minor premise: Singing is not commanded in the Levitical Law.
Conclusion: Therefore, singing in worship is forbidden.

David appears to have reasoned by analogy:
Major premise: The Law governs worship.
Minor premise #1: The Law prescribes that trumpets be played over the public ascensions, in public worship.
Minor premise #2: The trumpet is a musical instrument.
Conclusion: Analogously, song and other music are a legitimate part of worship.

In place of a “regulation-by-explicit command” principle, David operated according to a “regulation-by-analogy” principle.

The Gamaliel principle

Have you ever heard of the Gamaliel principle? It is based on the account in Acts about a Pharisee in Israel who warned the Sanhedrin to not kill the Apostles, but rather let their movement play itself out to see if it was of God. This is fine of course, until you see how it gets applied these days. Now, certain heretics and manipulators use this idea to mean that if someone’s church or ministry is growing, God is certainly behind it. How can you oppose the LDS Church or Benny Hinn, when he has big crowds or they are building new temples? Certainly their success means they are blessed by God, and therefore anything they may do wrong can be overlooked.

John Span addresses this kind of nonsense in this excellent article. He quotes Abraham Kuyper, among others, on the passage in Acts. Kuyper wrote:

Gamaliel’s advice is bad. It is not true that God destroys forthwith that which is not from him and crowns with success every endeavour of his believers. .. How is it that Gamaliel’s advice, so profoundly untrue, is repeated again and again in life? Could it not be just as well the other way around, that to have no success suggests virtue?… Oppressed, downtrodden, molested—can these not be signs that you are walking on the way of God?”

Generally speaking, if you hear someone throwing around this “principle”, it is a good sign to run away from his church/parachurch/ministry.

The Doctrinal Foundations of ACNA

house of bishops acna procession

Although the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) released a catechism, the catechism itself carries no doctrinal weight on its own (as far as I know). It is only useful as an explication of the doctrinal standards that are enshrined in ACNA’s Constitution. In the future, when there are doctrinal conflicts in ACNA, I envision appeals being made to what the Constitution says about doctrinal standards.

Before I look at what the Constitution says, it may be helpful to recall how it came into being. The Constitution imports language from the Common Cause Partners Theological Statement.

We, the representatives of the Common Cause Partners, do declare we believe the following affirmations and commentary to contain the chief elements of Anglican Reformed Catholicism, and to be essential for membership.

1) We receive the Canonical Books of the Old and New Testaments of the Holy Scripture as the inspired Word of God containing all things necessary for salvation, and as the final authority and unchangeable standard for Christian faith and life.

2) We confess the historic faith of the Undivided Church as declared in the Catholic Creeds.

3) We believe the teaching of the Seven Ecumenical Councils in so far as they are agreeable to the Holy Scriptures, and have been held by all, everywhere, at all times.

4) We hold the two sacraments of the Gospel to be ordained by Christ Himself, Baptism and the Supper of the Lord, and to be administered with unfailing use of Christ’s words of Institution and of the elements ordained by Him.

5) We accept the 1549 through the 1662 Book of Common Prayer and its ordinal as the foundation for Anglican worship and the standard for doctrine and discipline.

6) We believe the godly Historic Episcopate to be necessary for the full being of the Church.

7) We affirm the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion as foundational for authentic Anglican belief and practice and as correctives to doctrinal abuses. )) A “Governance Task Force” drafted the Constitution, and that Task Force consisted of: Hugo Blankingship, Chair – CANA, Philip Ashey+, Esq. AAC, Larry Bausch+ FIFNA, Travis Boline+ Kenya, Jerry Cimijotti+ Southern Cone, Kevin Donlon+ AMiA, +Robert Duncan Southern Cone, Cheryl Chang, Esq. ANIC, Bill Gandenberger+ Southern Cone, +Royal Grote REC, +John Guernsey Uganda, Matt Kennedy+ AAC, +Martyn Minns CANA, +Bill Murdoch Kenya, +Chuck Murphy AMiA, Jim McCaslin+ Kenya, Ron Speers, Esq. Uganda, Scott Ward, Esq. CANA, Barclay Mayo+ ACiC, Wick Stephens, Esq. Southern Cone, Scott Ward, Esq.CANA and Robert Weaver, Esq. Southern Cone.

I am told that Kevin Donlon was front and center during the process. A participant told me that he “…had a lot of objections and suggestions and effectively vetoed some of the Reformed stuff people argued for.” We have a brief overview of the process in this press conference, but as with all such events, it did not in any way delve into the actual nitty gritty of what happened. Organizations necessarily put on a “sunshine and roses” take on their own deliberations, and the way to the truth is usually found when talking to participants off the record. I doubt we will see such an accounting of this process given the participants.

I tried to conceptualize what the Constitution says in the following chart:

The Constitution uses three words regarding the doctrinal standards: confess, affirm and receive. If the words imply weight to the different sources of doctrine, then I take confess to be the strongest, affirm the second strongest, and receive the weakest word. Even if they are weighted in such a way, the Constitution does say, “we identify the following seven elements as characteristic of the Anglican Way, and essential for membership.”

The GAFCON Statement and Jerusalem Declaration are affirmed in the Preamble, probably because they were issued very late in the process of drafting the Constitution, and so were presumably included at the last minute and not as one of the “essential elements” for membership.

Early on, Dr. Ephraim Radner pointed out the different weight that the Constitution’s words carry, and noted a move towards “indefiniteness” on the part of the writers:

The identification of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer and Ordinal, and the Thirty-Nine Articles as “standards” and “principles” has struck some as overly and perhaps impossibly precise. After all, have not Anglicans, through the Lambeth Conference now over 100 years ago, made formal the lack of explicitness with which these formularies are to be held as standards for all Anglicans. at least as it determines Communion-related “Anglican” identity? Yet we note the care with which the Constitution has cloaked these standards with a certain indefiniteness: “We receive the Book of Common Prayer…as a standard for Anglican doctrine and discipline” and as “the standard for the Anglican tradition of worship”; “we receive the Thirty-Nine Articles…, as expressing the Anglican response to certain doctrinal issues controverted at that time, and as expressing fundamental principles…”.

The clear implication is that there may be other legitimate “standards”, and that the BCP of 1662 is rather one among many, although obviously an acceptable one. Clearly, that the early BCP’s represent the standard for “the tradition” of Anglican worship is incontestable as a historical claim. Furthermore, a “tradition of worship” is itself a loose referent and already indicates an acceptance that the BCP’s of the Reformation and post-Reformation are no longer in explicit use among many Anglicans. Finally, it is hardly constrictive, let alone historically odd, that the Thirty-Nine Articles would be received as holding doctrine appropriate to its time of composition, that continues to express certain “principles” that cohere with “authentic Anglicanism”. For the Constitution does not claim that the Articles articulate necessarily all such principles, exhaustively, or straightforwardly (since “principles” can only be gleaned from historical records aimed at local moments and controversies), nor that all “authentic Anglicanism” is bound by them in any exhaustive way. None of this should surprise us, however, given that the proposed new province contains both Anglo-Catholic and evangelical churches and bishops, who, vis a vis the Thirty-Nine Articles, for instance, hold very different views, and for whom there are, therefore, perforce several “standards” and “principles” at work.

On this score, we must note the difference in the Constitution’s language from the GAFCON “Jerusalem Declaration” (no. 3) regarding the Thirty-Nine Articles “as containing the true doctrine of the Church agreeing with God’s Word and as authoritative for Anglicans today”. Even this statement is open to some latitude in doctrinal reference however – does “authoritative for Anglicans today” mean for “all” Anglicans, necessarily? Can one be an “Anglican” and hold to some different (though perhaps not conflicting) standard? That the doctrine in the Articles is “true” does not clearly imply “exhaustively” true. And what exactly does “authoritative” mean in this context? Is it similar to the claims to salvation-status granted to certain beliefs by the Athanasian Creed? Probably not; indeed by their own standards, they are authoritative only to the degree that they are clearly supported by Scripture’s own teaching. Still, while the Jerusalem Declaration is itself hardly explicit in many ways, there is a definite move towards indefiniteness in the Constitution, one that is clearly by design, and most likely involves the reality of catholic and protestant sensibilities and commitments seeking incorporation in the same church. The Constitution “affirms” the GAFCON Jerusalem Declaration (1.10), but such “affirmation” is itself general and necessarily loose in its meaning.

The “taken in their literal and grammatical sense” line about the Articles of Religion is the famous Anglo-Catholic evasion from Newman’s Tract 90, which reads: “For its enjoining the “literal and grammatical sense,” relieves us from the necessity of making the known opinions of their framers, a comment upon their text;”. 1)See this post for another take on the issues. This same kind of move away from the Reformed tenets of Anglicanism occurred during the second GAFCON meeting in Nairobi, as you can read here.

These moves to placate the famous “three streams” are understandable if you think of the Anglican realignment in America as stitching together a diverse group of Anglicans who do not agree doctrinally. Archbishop Duncan said that the Constitution provided, “flexibility, recognizing the diversity of Godly approaches common among the partners coming into union.” I believe that the Formularies, Prayer Book and Ordinal (alongside the Bible of course) provide us with enough tools of persuasion to make the case for Augustinian orthodoxy even in the current confused doctrinal environment of ACNA, but we should not be deceived about the fact that there are many camps under the banner of ACNA.

The reality for those of us who hoped for a Reformed rebirth in the realignment is that ACNA is a “here comes everybody” church. What we might hope for in the long run is a decade or two of Reformed church planters, Reformed clergy moving into the role of bishop, and an eventual change of the Constitution to read that “the Articles of Religion are confessed as the doctrinal standard of ACNA as proved by Holy Scripture.”

References   [ + ]

1. See this post for another take on the issues.

Frame Defines Theology

I finally picked up John Frame’s Systematic Theology from the book pile and started reading it. I am very impressed so far, he is lucid, charitable and focused on the Scripture. I love his definition of theology:

…theology is the application of Scripture, by persons, to every area of life.

Why, then, do we need theology in addition to Scripture? The only answer, I believe, is “because we need to apply Scripture to life.”

Prior to this, he says:

…the theologian states the facts and truths of Scripture for the purpose of edification. Those truths are not stated for their own sake, but to build up people in Christian faith.

Pretty simple. Pretty much right on the money. Keeping these simple ideas in mind would be great for all of us.

God’s Law and the Believer

If there is a word that Christians today are allergic to, it is “law.” If you hear law mentioned in a sermon, it will likely be to denounce it as something negative. The whole place of the law in the life of the believer is filled with confusion based on many things, including Lutheran concepts that have pervaded Reformed churches to the point where sanctification is an utterly confusing subject to us. And yet Reformed confessional documents provide a view of the Law which is at odds with a great deal of current preaching, teaching us that the Law applies to us today and is a measure of our sanctification. For example, the Westminster Confession says:

VI. Although true believers be not under the law as a covenant of works, to be thereby justified or condemned; yet is it of great use to them, as well as to others; in that, as a rule of life, informing them of the will of God and their duty, it directs and binds them to walk accordingly; discovering also the sinful pollutions of their nature, hearts, and lives; so as, examining themselves thereby, they may come to further conviction of, humiliation for, and hatred against sin; together with a clearer sight of the need they have of Christ, and the perfection of his obedience. It is likewise of use to the regenerate, to restrain their corruptions, in that it forbids sin, and the threatenings of it serve to show what even their sins deserve, and what afflictions in this life they may expect for them, although freed from the curse thereof threatened in the law. The promises of it, in like manner, show them God’s approbation of obedience, and what blessings they may expect upon the performance thereof; although not as due to them by the law as a covenant of works: so as a man’s doing good, and refraining from evil, because the law encourageth to the one, and deterreth from the other, is no evidence of his being under the law, and not under grace.

VII. Neither are the forementioned uses of the law contrary to the grace of the gospel, but do sweetly comply with it: the Spirit of Christ subduing and enabling the will of man to do that freely and cheerfully, which the will of God, revealed in the law, requireth to be done.

The Larger Catechism says:

Q. 97. What special use is there of the moral law to the regenerate?

A. Although they that are regenerate, and believe in Christ, be delivered from the moral law as a covenant of works, so as thereby they are neither justified nor condemned; yet, besides the general uses thereof common to them with all men, it is of special use, to show them how much they are bound to Christ for his fulfilling it, and enduring the curse thereof in their stead, and for their good; and thereby to provoke them to more thankfulness, and to express the same in their greater care to conform themselves thereunto as the rule of their obedience.

As Anglicans, we can refer to the Articles of Religion, which say: 1)VII.

Although the Law given from God by Moses, as touching Ceremonies and Rites, do not bind Christian men, nor the Civil precepts thereof ought of necessity to be received in any commonwealth; yet notwithstanding, no Christian man whatsoever is free from the obedience of the Commandments which are called Moral.

The new Catechism from ACNA does an admirable job on the law of God, saying in part, “Therefore, keeping the divine Law is a fundamental form of the new life into which we are brought by faith in Christ.” I hope that Anglican clergy will embrace this Biblical view of the Law as opposed to current antinomian tendencies.


References   [ + ]

1. VII.

You Must Judge

Contrary to the one commandment that all people everywhere seem to believe in, namely “don’t judge,” Jesus told his disciples: “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.” In other words, Jesus told us to judge, just to do it the right way, not by appearances. This is as forgotten in modern pop theology as are works by some who overemphasize justification and forget sanctification.

Recent Anglican Posts of Note

Mark Thompson reviews an article by Steve Chalke, and says:

The real issue when discussing the nature of the Bible is the authority, and capacity to communicate, of the God whose word is recorded here for us. If God is the one who created all there is, sustains the world and redeems men and women in the midst of it, and if he is perfectly capable of communicating with men and women across cultures and time periods using human language, then in such a context this written word of God can and should be seen as authoritative and effective. It is indeed profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction and for training in righteousness.

Chalke insists that God ‘chooses dialogue over monologue’. Such a statement is just one of a number of superficial simplifications which distort the picture of who God is and so what the Bible is. God certainly does invite dialogue at points — ‘Come let us reason together’ etc. But at other points something quite like a monologue is much more accurate. Was the Sermon on the Mount or the Farewell Discourse or the vision of Revelation a dialogue? Not to mention the giving of the Ten Commandments, the call of Samuel, the promise to David in 2 Samuel 7 or the preaching of the prophets.

William G. Witt reviews the Church of England’s new baptismal liturgy, and remarks:

Evil is horizontal language. Sin is vertical language. An atheist can reject evil. Sin always has reference primarily to God. Dropping the language of sin is carried through to soteriology. The baptized no longer turn to Christ as “Saviour,” but simply “turn to Christ.” They no longer “submit to Christ as Lord” and Christ is no longer identified as “the way, the truth, and the life.” The extent of Christology is that the baptized “trusts” in Christ and promises to “follow him for ever.”

It is interesting that the baptismal prayer omits all language of sin. The apostles’ creed is dropped in preference to vague promises to trust God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The prayers again omit any reference to sin or forgiveness of sin.

This strikes me as a Nestorian (or adoptionist) Christology an Abelardian soteriology, a Pelagian anthropology and an ethics that has only the second table of the law.

Angelic Hosts

“Just as gods “stood by” the meetings of a city, so angels, thought Origen, attended church with each of the Christians, whom they guarded. They took pleasure in the reading of Scripture, although Christians were too sinful to see them with their own eyes. Before Constantine, therefore, the idea of a double Church, human and angelic, was known, although it was not emphasized in Christian ritual.” – Robin Lane Fox, Pagans and Christians.

Arnold van Ruler

An email list I am on brought up Arnold van Ruler, a theologian that I was not familiar with. I looked him up and found this book review by Randall E. Otto in the WTJ 53:1 (Spring 1991):

Arnold A. van Ruler: Calvinist Trinitarianism and Theocentric Politics. Trans. John Bolt. (Toronto Studies in Theology 38.) Lewiston, NY: Mellen, 1989. xliv, 228. $59.95.
This volume is comprised of eight key essays dating from 1947 by the Dutch theologian Arnold A. van Ruler, essays that until now have not been accessible to the English-speaking audience. Together with the translator’s very helpful introductory survey of the background and context of van Ruler’s theocentric vision, these essays provide the first comprehensive English introduction to van Ruler’s theology.
Although he started out as a Barthian, van Ruler soon concluded that Barth’s view of the world was too Christomonistic. The important first essay, “The Necessity of a Trinitarian Theology,” encapsulates the central themes of van Ruler’s perspective.

Jesus Christ is not all that there is and the preaching of the gospel is not all that there is. We humans and worldly reality also exist; culture and historical processes exist as well. And each of these has its own independence and its own significance. But, in the Christian faith, this cannot be understood christologically but only in a trinitarian way. [P. 14] 

Going beyond the “gnostic solution of soteriologizing the entire world, and its consequence, namely, the irreconcilable conflict between the church and the world” (p. 19), van Ruler contends that the trinitarian and plural character of the Reformed churches best equips them for the ecumenical task mandated by Christ, Scripture, and tradition to call forth the kingdom. Emphasizing particularly the “impoverished” pneumatological area of theology, van Ruler maintains, “it is these [Reformed] churches whose polity is built on the conviction that dialogue is the means by which the Holy Spirit leads us into all truth” (p. 16), perhaps even to the resolution of the conflict between Rome and the Reformation. Van Ruler does well to remind us that “the church of the Reformation is the reformed catholic church…. To be Reformed means to be, or at least to strive to be, truly and fully catholic” (p. 6).
In the essays “Structural Differences Between the Christological and Pneumatological Perspectives” and “Grammar of Pneumatology” van Ruler explores key distinctions to be made in regard to the person and work of the Christ and the Spirit, respectively. The mystical union with Christ is not the ultimate and real goal of the Christian religion, but rather the indispensable means utilized by the Spirit for obtaining the true goal: “the goal is the kingdom of God and experiencing the world as the kingdom” (p. 53). “The ultimate goal of all things thus does not lie in participating in the immanent-trinitarian life of God, but in the realization of genuine creaturely existence and being before the face of God in accordance with his will” (pp. 71-72). Hence, van Ruler contends in contradiction to standard Reformed presentations, Rome has not taught too much synergism, but too little, for it has not given adequate consideration to the work of the Holy Spirit in humanity, whereby “the entire business of God is placed in our hands and becomes our business, in our consciousness, our decision, our act, our prayer, and in our accountability in the last judgment” (p. 73). The meaning of the world for God thus goes beyond soteriology to protology and eschatology. Sanctification—life lived before God’s face, horizontally, in time—not forgiveness, is, according to van Ruler, the biblical-reformational view of the meaning of the world. This perspective issues in an alteration in emphasis regarding the cross of Christ. “This atoning sacrifice finds its meaning not in sacrifice as such, and not even in atonement as such (i.e., the removal of guilt between God and humanity), but in God’s justice. We are thus directed to its meaning for human life” (p. 110). The essay “Christ Taking Form in the World” culminates with a discussion of the theocracy van Ruler envisions. “Theocracy is the ordering and configuration (Gestaltung) of the life of the state from the perspective of Christ, the gospel, and the Word of God” (p. 121). This does not mean that one devises a theory of the state or even a program for political action from the Bible; rather, it summons government in its creation of laws, ruling, and administration of justice to understand itself from within the biblical conception of life and community. Far from the absolutism seemingly inherent in the theonomy movement, theocracy is the only means whereby the ideal of toleration can be maintained, as van Ruler points out in the essay “Theocracy and Toleration.”
With his emphases on the Trinity and the kingdom, eschatology and this-worldliness, dialogue and the impossibility of absolute certainty or unity, it is easy to see how someone like the liberationist theoretician Järgen Moltmann could have found so much capital in van Ruler on which to build (see M. Douglas Meeks, Origins of the Theology of Hope [Philadelphia: Fortress, 1974] 24-25, 97–99). The resemblances in van Ruler to secular theology are, however, “superficial,” as Bolt makes clear in his introduction (pp. xi-xiv). In point of fact, van Ruler saw in Karl Barth’s dismissal of the significance of history, his critique of all Christianization, and his rejection of infant baptism a devaluation of the world to a mere theater on which the drama of the covenant of grace is performed. It was Barth, van Ruler declared, who was to blame for the growth of secular and revolutionary theology. “By failing clearly to distinguish salvation and creation, church and world, by merging salvific and ontic reality into one christocentric perspective, Barth paved the way for the particularity of grace disappearing into the universality of the world process” (p. xxxvii).
For van Ruler, Bonhoeffer’s religionlessness is the exact opposite of maturity, for maturity requires judgment, which requires metaphysics, ontology, and, foundationally, religion.

Through regeneration and conversion, in the purification of one’s heart and the sanctification of one’s life, one discovers not only Christ and God, but above all, also oneself and the world. Apart from Christ and the Spirit, apart from God, culture and the state are not genuine possibilities…. Even such generally human questions as those of epistemology, questions about how we can know the world, ourselves and thus truth, cannot be resolved apart from the presuppositions of the Christian faith. [P. 86] 

“Reason is only genuinely reason when it not only becomes aware of the Word of God, but when it knows with (conscientia) God about itself, about rational humanity, and about all things” (p. 139).
Founded in historic Calvinism and its dual emphasis on predestination and the work of the Spirit, van Ruler’s kingdom vision nonetheless acknowledges more fully the mutuality missing in much of Reformed theology, a lack which has come powerfully to the fore in recent social reconstructions of God.

All reality is, of course, the work of God, and as such it is placed in our hands and becomes human work…. As human beings are made responsible for God’s work, that is to say, we are called to such a responsibility (it is not simply given in our existence). God desires to discuss everything with us, everything that he has done with the world—which belongs to God! [P. 145]

Hence, for van Ruler, Immanuel (“God with us”) and Christianization are merely the means toward the ultimate goal of the realization of humanity as human beings before God. We are Christians to be humans, not humans to be Christians. This vantage point permits a much greater appreciation of the life to be lived from the purpose of creation to its eschatological consummation and is a perspective from which Reformed theology can make significant gains in its ecumenical and missionary efforts.