Collect of the Day
O LORD, we beseech thee to keep thy Church and household continually in thy true religion; that they who do lean only upon the hope of thy heavenly grace may evermore be defended by thy mighty power; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Sunday, August 09, 2009
Part XII: Thirty-Nine Articles: The Historic Basis of Anglican Faith: Chapter Seven: Current Criticisms of the Articles
"The truth is that no work of ours, apart from forgiveness in Christ, can pass this absolute judgment. It is at this level that the Article assesses the acceptability of our works, and not on the level of the judgment that we pass on one another's life and actions, as we assess them as good or bad. It is through a failure to recognize this that much of the criticism of the Article arises."
Thirty-Nine Articles: The Historic Basis of Anglican Faith
The author: Canon David Broughton Knox, B.A., A. L. C. D., B.D., M.Th., D. Phil. (Oxford), was Principal of Moore Theological College, Sydney, Australia. Ordained in 1941 he served in an English parish and as a chaplain in the Royal Navy before becoming a tutor at Moore College 1947-53. On leave in England he was tutor and lecturer in New Testament at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford 1951-53 and Assistant Curate in the parish of St. Aldale's, Oxford. He became Vice Principal of Moore College in 1954 and Principal in 1959. He was elected Canon of St. Andrew's Cathedral in 1960. His other books include "The Doctrine of Faith in the Reign of Henry VIII" (London: James Clarke, 1961).
David Broughton Knox also founded George Whitefield College in South Africa in 1989.
Current Criticisms of the Articles
As we have seen, there are some eminent critics of the Articles in the present day who suggest that their doctrinal position should be altered. Some of these criticisms ought now to be looked at more closely. Three Articles in particular have been singled out for criticism: Article 13 'Of Works before Justification', which states that a man's life before God's Spirit indwells him through faith in Christ is 'not pleasant to God', nor can his deeds earn the favour of salvation; Article 18, which states that we cannot be saved by following the 'light of Nature. For holy Scripture doth set out unto us only the Name of Jesus Christ, whereby men must be saved'; and Article 17, which begins '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 . . .' It will be noticed that all these three Articles speak about the mind of God, what sort of life pleases Him, how a sinner may obtain His external salvation of those who by nature are under His wrath. It should be obvious that the religious person must remain absolutely agnostic about such subjects, so remote from our own personal knowledge, and which deal with the mind and purposes of a personal sovereign God, unless that God has revealed His mind on these matters. Nevertheless, they are matters of crucial importance to all who feel themselves guilty with regard to the law of God and who seek a reconciliation with Him.
The Thirty-Nine Articles do not claim to be pleasant doctrine, or even doctrine which is easily commendable to reason. They do, however, very definitely claim that they are the consequences of statements of biblical truth, that is, that they are agreeable to the Word of God. Before any question of revision or supercession of the Articles can be settled this claim must be examined, and, if true, its implications assessed. This is not the place to establish in detail the biblical basis of the Thirty-Nine Articles but some of the Articles most commonly criticized may be examined.
Article 13 is based on the truth that God sees the heart and judges actions, not as things in themselves but in the context of the motives and attitudes of the person performing them.
It is not actions so much as persons acting which God assesses, and Scripture is quite clear that by nature we cannot please God till His Spirit changes us at the centre of our personality. The carnal mind 'is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God' (Romans 8:7, 8). St. Paul testified of nature apart from God's grace, 'In me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing' (Romans 7:18). Our Lord's words have the same import: 'As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. Without me, ye can do nothing' (John 14:4, 5).
The source of holiness is faith. 'Without faith it is impossible to please God' (Hebrews 11:6). 'Whatsoever is not of faith is sin' (Romans 14:23). This may seem strong language; but a moment's reflection will show that it is obviously true. Faith is the fulfilling of the first petition, 'Hallowed be thy name'. God wills that His name should be hallowed. He wills that mankind should acknowledge Him and live in the light of His character. God is reality, and to live by faith in Him is the first step in the life of truth and reality. A life lived on any other basis is shot through with falsity. It is inconceivable that the God of truth should regard as ultimately pleasing actions which cannot be free from the character of unbelief from which they spring.
Thus the statement of Article 13 that 'Works done before the grace of Christ, and the Inspiration of his Spirit, are not pleasant to God, forasmuch as they spring not of faith', is supported by many explicit statements of Scripture as well as by the general consideration of God's holiness revealed in Scripture.
The concluding sentence of the Article follows by strict necessity. 'We doubt not but that they have the nature of sin.' If an action is not pleasing to God, it can only be because it is tainted with the stain of sin. It is out of the heart that actions proceed, and they take their character from the attitude of the heart. The ultimate test of an action is what attitude to God it reflects. If our actions are to pass this test, our 'heart' must have undergone that radical change to which Jesus referred in His words to Nicodemus, 'You must be born again. Except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.' Without this radical change brought about by the Spirit of God it is impossible for our actions to escape the taint of the self-centred (in contrast to the God-centred) nature which is mankind's inheritance since the Fall.
If we are to appreciate the standpoint of Article 13 and the Scripture testimony on which it is based, we need to reflect on the transcendent holiness of God. His holiness is real; God is Truth. This gives seriousness to life, for He will not, indeed cannot without contradiction, wink at a minor element (as we might say) of self-will, rebellion and the ignoring of God, who is the Real and Holy One. If our lives are to be assessed by the eternal Judge, the judgment must turn on our attitude to the righteous and holy Creator. The truth is that no work of ours, apart from forgiveness in Christ, can pass this absolute judgment. It is at this level that the Article assesses the acceptability of our works, and not on the level of the judgment that we pass on one another's life and actions, as we assess them as good or bad. It is through a failure to recognize this that much of the criticism of the Article arises.
The acceptability of Article 13 turns on the question as to how deep rooted the principle of sin is thought to be in the human nature. Does it reach to the inmost core of the personality, to the 'heart', to quote the biblical image? It is impossible to believe that so radical a personal decision as rebellion against God does not reach to the bottom of the heart. And all that proceeds out of the heart has its character, till God gives us a new 'heart' as promised by the prophet.ii
Article 18 'Of obtaining eternal Salvation only by the Name of Christ' goes closely with Article 13. Only through Christ is there the grace of the new birth, and 'except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God' (John 3:3).
iThis Article was criticized by Canon H. W. Montefiore in 'Assent to the Thirty-Nine Articles', a sermon preached on his Institution as Vicar of St. Mary the Great, Cambridge, September 29, 1963; and by Dean Matthews: The Thirty-Nine Articles (London, 1961), p. 15.
iiInterestingly, Hans Kung in Justification (London, 1966), ix cites Article 13 'Of works Before Justification', together with its related articles, Article 10 'Of Free Will'; Article 11 ' of the Justification of Man'; and Article 12 'Of Good Works'; and comments: 'I am unable to see a reason why, as a catholic theologian, I should not as a whole, and with only a few further precisions concur in their content.'
[For other chapters of this book see: Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 4.1, Chapter 4.2, Chapter 5.1, Chapter 5.2, Chapter 5.3, Chapter 5.4, Chapter 5.5, Chapter 6.
The Ninth Sunday after Trinity.
GRANT to us, Lord, we beseech thee, the spirit to think and do always such things as be rightful; that we, who cannot do any thing that is good without thee, may by thee be enabled to live according to thy will; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Posted by Charlie J. Ray at 3:39 PM