Bishop Sutton on the FiFNA Changes

Responding to critics of the recent FiFNA changes, Bishop Ray Sutton wrote to David Virtue. Sutton said:

“The statement embracing all Seven Ecumenical Councils is to be understood within the historic, normative understanding of the Church of England and the Communion’s view of these councils. Yes the Anglican Way has emphasized the foundation of the first four councils but it has never completely rejected the rest. The sense in which the Ecumenical Councils have been received has perhaps been best summarized in C. B. Moss’s important work entitled, The Church of England and the Seventh Council. He explains, “It [the COE] accepts their [the Ecumenical Councils] decisions on matters of faith, matters necessary to salvation, that is to spiritual health and right understanding of the Gospel: not necessarily their anathemas (though it accepts the principle of anathema, Articles 18 and 33), nor their Canons, which may not be suitable for the very different conditions in which we live now. The Church of England and presumably all the other Anglican Churches accept these dogmas, freely and not under compulsion, because they believe that they are proved by Holy Scripture, and are necessary to the right understanding of it.” (p. 5) This summary I think makes clear that the COE and the Anglican Way have accepted the faith and morals of the Seven Ecumenical Councils, not necessarily the anathemas or the canons.”

A few remarks about Bishop Sutton’s commentary are in order. First, is his statement to Virtue the authoritative take from FiFNA about how to interpret their Declaration, or is it just his opinion of how the FiFNA Declaration should be interpreted, while others may interpret the Declaration differently?
Second, The FiFNA Declaration does not discern between “the faith and morals” or the “anathemas…or canons” of the Seven Councils, but Bishop Sutton does. The fact that FiFNA’s Declaration requires such exegesis should not inspire confidence in its perspicuity.
Third, with apologies to C.B. Moss, I prefer these source statements from the Anglican Way on the Councils, first, from The Reformatio Legum Ecclesiasticarum:

14. What is to be thought about councils.

Although we freely grant great honour to the councils, and especially to the ecumenical ones, yet we judge that all of them must be placed far below the dignity of the canonical Scriptures, and even among the councils themselves we make a huge distinction. For some of them, such as the special four, Nicaea, the first of Constantinople, Ephesus and Chalcedon, we embrace and accept with great reverence. And we make the same judgment with regard to many others which were held later on, in which we see and confess that the most holy fathers determined many things, in a most serious and holy manner, concerning the blessed and highest Trinity, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, and the redemption of mankind procured by him. But we do not regard them as binding on our faith except in so far as they can be proved out of the Holy Scriptures. For it is most obvious clear that some councils have occasionally erred, and defined things which are contrary to each other, partly in [our legal] actions and partly even in faith. Therefore the councils are to be studied with honour and Christian reverence, but at the same time they are to be tested against the godly, certain and right rule of the Scriptures.

Second, from Archbishop Wake in his answer to the Bishop of Meaux said:

(3.) Were the benefits of images never so great, yet you know this is neither that which we dispute with you, nor for which they are set up in your churches. Your Trent Synod expressly defines that due veneration is to be paid to them. Your catechism says that they are to be had not only for instruction but for worship. And this is the point in controversy betwixt us. We retain pictures, and sometimes even images too in our churches for ornament, and (if there be such uses to be made of them) for all the other benefits you have now been mentioning. Only we deny that any service is to be paid to them; or any solemn prayers to be made at their consecration, for any divine virtues, or indeed for any virtues at all, to proceed from them.”

I recognize that the issue is not simply images, relics or the like, but they are certainly brought into play when we affirm all Seven Councils.
Finally, I note that Bishop Sutton refers to, “the various streams of the Anglican Way”, something that is now de rigueur within ACNA, but really should be retired as theologically imprecise.

Archbishop Usher on the Filioque

In his book A Body of Divinity: or, the Sum and Substance of Christian Religion, Archbishop James Usher writes:

But how can you prove out of the Scriptures, that the Holy Ghost is God, proceeding from the Father and the Son?
First, John 15.26. When the Comforter is come, who I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of Truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me. That he proceedeth from the Father, is here expressly affirmed: That he proceedeth from the son, is by necessary consequence implied, because the Son is said to send him; at John 14.26 the Father is said to send him in the Son’s Name. By which sending, the Order of the Persons of the Trinity is evidently designed. Because the Son is of the Father, and the Father is not of the Son; therefore we find in Scripture that the Father sendeth his Son, but never that the Son sendeth his Father. In like manner, because the Holy Ghose proceedeth from the Father, and from the Son; we find that both the Father and the Son do send the Holy Ghost, but never that the Holy Ghost doth send either the Father or the Son.

From page 75.

Gerald Bray on the Filioque

In an excellent article on the Holy Spirit in JETS 41:3 (September 1998), Gerald Bray wrote of the filioque:

In ecumenical discussions the representatives of the Eastern churches are adamant that we Westerners must abandon our position on this issue, and the truth is that since most of the Western representatives know and care so little about it they are usually inclined to give in to this demand without argument, if only for the sake of ecumenical peace.

Evangelical Christians, who are wedded to the belief that Scripture alone should be the foundation of Christian belief and teaching, often have little to say on this subject. Many simply take the double procession, as the Western view is called, for granted. They barely mention it in their theologies. The work of the Holy Spirit has been discussed in an endless series of thick tomes, but his person has been neglected or, rather, taken for granted. Catholic theologians who have defended the double procession have often used arguments that are drawn from tradition or from their understanding of Church authority. Evangelicals do not usually share these and are often unsympathetic to them, which makes it difficult for us to engage fully in the debate. For example, when Eastern theologians attack the filioque as a sign of papal arrogance and Catholics defend it because Rome has spoken and cannot be contradicted, where will evangelical sympathies most naturally lie? What is more, it can safely be said that the teaching of Scripture on this particular point is less than crystal clear, though of course that does not mean that the Bible has nothing at all to say about it. After all, it can just as easily be said that Trinitarian theology as a whole is not set out in Holy Scripture with the degree of clarity and precision that some defenders of a sola Scriptura position would like, but that  does not excuse us from having to hold and defend the Biblical truth proclaimed by that doctrine

In addition to the passivity and ignorance of many in the West on this subject, Bray points out that the real issue is one of truth, not how the doctrine came to be added to the Creed:

We may and probably should regret that the filioque clause was added to the Nicene Creed without universal consent, but the Eastern churches ought to understand that for the West to drop it after so many centuries raises a differ different issue altogether. Even if the reasons given for this deletion are ones of propriety, most people will assume that a question of truth is involved as well. To drop the filioque would seem to many to be a rejection of the doctrine of the double procession, even if technically that is not the case. The truth issue will not go away: Does the Holy Spirit proceed from the Son as well as from the Father—and, if he does, does this matter? We must not forget that the Eastern churches, however much they may play on the propriety issue, are also concerned with the question of truth. Most of their theologians want the West to drop the filioque not merely because it was added without their consent but because they believe that it is a false doctrine. This is the nub of the issue—and, unless it is decided one way or the other, tinkering with the words of the Nicene Creed will make very little difference either way.

ACNA Vs. the 39 Articles

ACNA’s Provincial Meeting Journal is out and it shows ACNA talking out of both sides of its mouth on the filioque, a doctrine central to all of Western Christendom. The draft liturgies in this document contain a Nicene Creed that reads:

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father. 

The footnote to this reads:

The filioque clause “and the Son” may be added here. It is not included in the text above for ecumenical purposes, in accordance with the 1978 Lambeth Conference, though the ACNA does not disagree with the theology of the filioque. 

So you can do whatever you want, say the filioque or not, because ACNA wants to be ecumenical with a church that explicitly violates Article XXII of the 39 Articles. And how do you not disagree with the theology of something and then drop it anyway?
Additionally, dropping the double procession from the Creed violates Article V:

Of the Holy Ghost.
The Holy Ghost, proceeding from the Father and the Son, is of one substance, majesty, and glory, with the Father and the Son, very and eternal God.

Are the ACNA bishops also going to change the Articles by fiat? What ACNA is doing with proposed changes like this is driving Classical Protestants away from it – not a good move.
The minutes contain this resolution:

Resolution Concerning the Nicene Creed
Bp. Anderson moves, Bp. Wood seconds,
The normative form of the Nicene Creed for the Anglican Church in North America is the original text as adopted by the Councils of Nicaea (325 A.D.) and Constantinople (381 A.D.). This form shall be rendered in English in the best and most accurate translation achievable.
The Anglican Church in North America acknowledges that the form of the Nicene Creed customary in the West is that of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, including the words “and the Son” (filioque), which form may be used in worship and for elucidation of doctrine.
Because we are committed to the highest level of global unity possible, the College of Bishops of the Anglican Church in North America seeks advice of the Theological Commission of the Global Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans concerning implementation of the recommendation of the Lambeth Conference of 1978 to use the normative form of the Nicene Creed at worship.
Adopted unanimously.

Both the “normative” forms do not contain the filioque, and yet the form containing the filioque may be used “for elucidation of doctrine.” Can you make sense of that? 

Intinction (Should Go)

One practice in urgent need of reform in liturgical churches in intinction (dipping the communion bread into the cup of wine prior to eating it). I suspect that most people haven’t really thought through why they do what they do in communion, and pick up what they do by habit. I have never heard any teaching on the subject that I can remember, and yet what we do in these rituals is vitally important. In my parish and every other Anglican parish I visit, intinction is widely — and in some cases almost exclusively — practiced.
Many of us have recognized that using grape juice for communion is absurd and a relic of Prohibition. We can see that crackers are not bread and grape juice is not wine. Many have also recognized that yes, Holy Communion is to be celebrated weekly, not quarterly or annually. These things are good, and they are advances over where a good deal of evangelicals still are today. However, when it comes to the method of reception, we are all over the map, and for no good reason. Jon Barlow wrote an exceptional article on intinction in 2011, and you should read it all here. I will quote part of his conclusion:

Intinction implies that the order of the ceremony is not in the most central place. It also implies that true eating and drinking are not as central as some other aspects of the rite. 

Order in rites is something God takes very seriously. We know this from the book of Leviticus where we see God’s taking pains to teach the people the proper way of approaching him through a series of different kinds of sacrifices. And inside of each sacrifice, God does things in a particular order – animals are slaughtered on tables, drained of blood, then the blood is sprinkled here and there and certain parts are put on the altar fire, etc. God shows himself to be the kind of God that when he gives a ritual, he expects it to be performed in a certain order. Or, put more positively, God shows himself to be a teacher wanting to take his students through a particular story over and over, and he wants them to get this story right so they don’t get the wrong idea about him. I’m not sure exactly how moving all consumption to the end of the rite of communion changes the story, but my uncertainty about that gives me pause when considering whether or not to depart from the example given by Jesus. 

As for eating and drinking, we are not gnostics, as Christians. We believe that our bodies are important and the things we do with them are important and the order in which we do them is important. And so eating with our jaws, and drinking with our lips – these are really meaningful activities. Intinction changes the relationship of the human body to the elements from the original celebration’s example. This is not trivial.

Alan Stibbs makes the theological point that intinction is a bringing together of what our Lord commanded to be served separately, and it presents a confusing message about the nature of Christ:

In the third place, in order fully to follow the pattern of our Lord’s institution, and to preserve the vivid witness to His death which we thus dramatically remember, the bread and the wine ought deliberately to be kept apart and administered separately, first the bread to all, and later the cup to all. This again is a use already common in many non-Anglican congregations; and so, by becoming ourselves more scriptural in practice, we should make fellowship with others at the Lord’s table more easy to realize.

Such proper scriptural practice of administering the separated elements singly makes the association of the localized presence of the glorified humanity of Christ in or under either of them unthinkable. For the present living Lord cannot be thus divided. `This bread’ and `this cup’ speak of His death. Also, such awareness of the true character and meaning of the sacrament which our Lord ordained makes intinction (or the administration of both kinds together by the dipping of the bread into the wine first) theologically undesirable; and it makes administration in one kind only completely improper.

In addition to the Biblical and theological reasons for not allowing intinction, on a practical level it is very gross for those of us who do not use intinction. Drinking from a cup full of bread is not pleasant.
Getting rid of intinction is something that I would ideally love to see ACNA tackle, but it is also something that I think has about a zero percent chance of happening. Getting agreement on the issue would be a first step, attempting to pass that agreement on down the line to the local parishes sounds hilarious to me, as we don’t even come close to using the same liturgy right now. Nevertheless, it is a key reform in getting our practice in line with the Scriptural mandate.

Bishop Guernsey Defends the Trinity

I had the privilege of attending Christ Church Vienna yesterday and listening to the sermon from Bishop John Guernsey. As it was Trinity Sunday, he preached a masterful defense of the doctrine of the Trinity, explaining this mystery lucidly and refuting several common heresies on the subject. It was encouraging to see a bishop defending the core doctrine of our faith in a clear way, with little reference to notes and without resorting to the helpless, shrug of the shoulders, “who can understand this” posture that you see in quite a few churches today.

The Nine Ways of Participating in Another’s Sin

Historically, the Church has used the following set of nine ways that one can participate in another’s sins. I take this from the Summa Theologica:

  • by command 
  • by counsel 
  • by consent 
  • by flattery 
  • by receiving 
  • by participation 
  • by silence
  • by not preventing 
  • by not denouncing

These nine items are a good test for our individual actions, but they also provide an excellent standard for corporate behavior. I am thinking of the behavior of (1) The Anglican Church of Rwanda, (2) PEAR USA and ACNA, and (3) GAFCON, to say nothing of Anglican media outlets and blogs who remain silent.
Given the overwhelming testimony of evil committed by Paul Kagame’s regime in Rwanda towards Hutus, the population of the DRC, and Tutsis who dare to speak against him, are these entities participating with this evil? Are they silent in the face of this evil? Are they preventing this evil? Are they not denouncing this evil? I can only come to one conclusion, and it isn’t a good one.
It is very easy to point to obvious moral courage in the past, it is far harder to put into action these beliefs in the present, when it may cost you something.

John Brown of Wamphray on Sola Scriptura

In John Brown’s commentary on Romans he says:

So precious should truth be unto both pastor and people, and so wary ought both to be of error, that as the pastor should labor to bring forth nothing but what he can produce Scripture for, and show that thus it is written; so people should search and try whether the doctrines delivered be according to the word written, or not: therefore doth Paul confirm his assertion by thus it is written

However the Lord hath been pleased to afford us many helps, whereby we may attain unto the clear discovery of truth, and which we may safely make us of in their own place; yet the only test and touchstone by which we are to try what is truth, what is error, and upon which we are to rest, is the word of the Lord: Thus it is written should sufficiently clear us of the truth.

Pascal on Various Subjects

Pascal says:

It will be one of the confusions of the damned to see that they are condemned by their own reason, by which they claimed to condemn the Christian religion.

He frequently downplays the ability of reason to convince the unbeliever. For example:

There are two ways of proving the truths of our religion; one by the power of reason, the other by the authority of him who speaks.

We do not make use of the latter, but of the former. We do not say, “This must be believed, for Scripture, which says it, is divine.” But we say that it must be believed for such and such a reason, which are feeble arguments, as reason may be bent to everything.

On the subject of the proofs of God’s existence, he writes:

The metaphysical proofs of God are so remote from the reasoning of men and so complicated, that they make little impression; and if they should be of service to some, it would be only during the moment that they see such demonstration; but an hour afterwards they fear they have been mistaken.

And again:

If it is a sign of weakness to prove God by nature, do not despise Scripture; if it is a sign of strength to have known these contradictions, esteem Scripture.

On contradictory truths, he writes:

Contradiction is a bad sign of truth; several things which are certain are contradicted; several things which are false pass without contradiction. Contradiction is not a sign of falsity, nor the want of contradiction a sign of truth.

On humility, he says something that Sovereign Grace Ministries should take to heart:

Discourses on humility are a source of pride in the vain, and of humility in the humble. So those on scepticism cause believers to affirm. Few men speak humbly of humility, chastely of chastity, few doubtingly of scepticism. We are only falsehood, duplicity, contradiction; we both conceal and disguise ourselves from ourselves.

Next to Calvin and Augustine, I think Pascal is moving into position as one of my favorite authors.

Aquinas on Affected Ignorance

Does ignorance of something excuse us from sin? Aquinas says in the Summa:

Ignorance is “consequent” to the act of the will, in so far as ignorance itself is voluntary: and this happens in two ways, in accordance with the two aforesaid modes of voluntary (1a2ae.6.3). First, because the act of the will is brought to bear on the ignorance: as when a man wishes not to know, that he may have an excuse for sin, or that he may not be withheld from sin; according to Job 21:14: “We desire not the knowledge of Thy ways.” And this is called “affected ignorance.” Secondly, ignorance is said to be voluntary, when it regards that which one can and ought to know: for in this sense “not to act” and “not to will” are said to be voluntary, as stated above 15 (1a2ae.6.3). 

Wishing not to know, not looking into matters, staying willfully ignorant so as to excuse yourself from sin, Aquinas calls all of this affected ignorance.