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.
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
". . . Holy Scripture is the sufficient source of saving knowledge of God. The object of the Articles is to state succinctly this knowledge, just as the Creeds do . . . 'Do the Articles faithfully reflect the teaching of Scripture?' Applying this latter question to the Creeds, orthodox Christians would answer in the affirmative. The Church of England holds that the same answer must be given when the question is applied to the Articles . . . The Creeds and the Articles are to be accepted because 'they may be proved by most certain warrants of holy Scripture'.
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.
Dr. W. R. Matthews, objected to the doctrine of the Articles, which, he said, was Calvinistic. This emotive description of the doctrine is irrelevant to the question of its truth. In particular, the Dean objected to Article 17 'Of Predestination and Election'. As is not unusual in critics of the doctrine of predestination, he misunderstood the phraseology of the Article, which he said was supralapsarian.iii The Article, however, is plainly sublapsarian, in that is speaks of God's decree of election being to 'deliver from curse and damnation'; that is to say, the elect are viewed as sinners, viewed after the Fall, or sublapsarianly. Both supralapsarian and sublapsarian views put God's decisions into eternity (as does the Article, 'before the foundations of the world'). Neither concept regards God as making His decision after the event has taken place in time, as though God made up His plans as He went along, after He has seen what has happened; so that Dr. Matthews has mistaken the facts of the controversy when he wrote, 'The "moderate" or sublapsarian party held that the election of the redeemed took place after the Fall and that the Fall itself was not predestined . . . In this respect it is plain that our Articles do not represent moderate Calvinism.'iv Both supralapsarian and sublapsarian hold that God works all things after the counsel of His will. The difference between the two views (which is no longer a live issue) was simply in the logical order of the elements that go to make up the eternal, pretemporal decree or counsel of God. It is a difference which had not come into consideration at the time when our Articles were written.
This question of predestination or election cannot be resolved from the resources of our own experience or powers of thought. It should be plain that we cannot know the mind and purposes of God simply by reflecting on the limited segment of God's purposes that we know in experience. On the other hand, predestination is abundantly confirmed in revelation. No doctrine is more clearly enunciated in Scripture than that God's absolute sovereignty includes sovereignty in the selection of sinners for salvation. 'He has mercy on whom He will. So then it is not of him that willeth, or of him that runneth, but of God that has mercy' (Romans 9:16, 17, R.V.). Mercy and merit are incompatible concepts, the one excludes the other, so that if our salvation is to be attributed entirely to the mercy of God (as the Scriptures abundantly testify) then, unless all are saved (which the Scriptures do not allow us to conclude), those who receive the mercy of God are chosen by Him in Christ from out of those who all equally deserve His condemnation. The ultimate reason for this has not been revealed to us, but we know that the election of God as all His acts, rests in His sovereign, wise, righteous and loving character.
In summing up his criticism of Article 17 'Of Predestination and Election', as well as that of the doctrinally related Article 9 'Of Original or Birth-sin', and Article 13 'Of Works Before Justification', Dr. Matthews wrote of 'the fundamental defect in the theology of the whole document. The statements made in the Articles are the kind of statements which could be made about human beings. God is envisaged as an immensely powerful sovereign who plans in advance the details of His creation . . . This anthropomorphism vitiates the whole doctrinal statement . . . For, if we believe God is eternal, we cannot rightly think of Him as conditioned by time or space.'v
Such criticism of the Articles is merely criticism of the scriptural presentation of God. Revelation makes God known to us by portraying Him as one who acts in time and space. If this manner of speaking about God is untrue or inadequate, there is nothing we can substitute for it but agnosticism.
Dean Matthews extended his criticism of the supernaturalistic language of the Articles (which simply reflects the language of Scripture) to the resurrection of our Lord. 'How many of us, I wonder', he wrote, 'would be prepared to defend in all details the language of the Articles on the Resurrection and Ascension, with the crass literalism of the assertion that the bones of the Lord Jesus are in heaven?' If the alternative is to believe that Jesus' bones are still in Palestine, this would be simple naturalism and unbelief, in direct conflict with the New Testament witness to the empty tomb and the resurrection appearances in the Gospels. The Thirty-Nine Articles, however, though fully supernaturalistic, do not fall into the 'crass literalism' (if such it be) of saying that our Lord's bones are in heaven, but in a moderate statement keep well within the biblical witness. 'Christ did truly rise again from death, and took again his body, with flesh, bones, and all things pertaining to the perfection of Man's nature; wherewith he ascended into Heaven, and there sitteth, until he return to judge all Men at the last day.'
It has always been recognized from the first days of Christianity that the language of Scripture with regard to the being of God has the character of metaphor. The anthropomorphite heretics were those who refused to recognize this. But the recognition does not imply that the abundant metaphors of Scripture are not adequate to convey to us a full and true concept of God as He reveals Himself to us. Furthermore, since God has given us knowledge of Himself only through such language it is impossible for Christian thought and statement about God to do without such language. And the language and images of such statements have the same 'metaphorical' character as they have in Scripture. But the concepts of Scripture have never been 'mythologized', except by the anthropomorphites and their like.
Much of the modern objection to the Articles is really a quarrel with Scripture, for as Dean Matthews acknowledged, 'It is beyond dispute that there is scarecely any statement in them which cannot be supported by texts from the Bible.'vi This acknowledgement is a vindication of the Articles, for their professed intention it simply to reflect the doctrines of Scripture. Just as Article 8 commends the three Creeds because 'they may be proved by most certain warrants of holy Scripture', so the Articles vindicate their own statements by their scriptural character. Article 6 enumerates the principle on which all the Articles are composed, namely, that Holy Scripture is the sufficient source of saving knowledge of God. The object of the Articles is to state succinctly this knowledge, just as the Creeds do. Before the Articles can be criticized adversely, or superseded, at least one of these two questions must be answered in the negative. 'Do the Articles faithfully reflect the teaching of Scripture?' Applying this latter question to the Creeds, orthodox Christians would answer in the affirmative. The Church of England holds that the same answer must be given when the question is applied to the Articles. [!!!] Modern critics of the Articles have never applied themselves to question whether the Articles may be said to reflect Bible truth in the same way as the Creeds are believed to do. The Creeds and the Articles are to be accepted because 'they may be proved by most certain warrants of holy Scripture'. Is this a correct ground for accepting statements about God? Or are the statements of the Creeds to be accepted on a different ground from the acceptance of the statements of the Articles?vii
One of Dr. W. R. Matthews's criticisms of the Articles is that their statements distort the proportion of scriptural truth. His criticism is not established from the evidence he adduces, and his warning that 'we must not take [St. Paul's statements on predestination] in isolation from other passages which have a different tendency' was fully recognized by the compilers of the Articles themselves, who in Article 20 remind us that we may not 'so expound one place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to another'. All that the dean's criticism here amounts to is that we must interpret Scripture correctly, not onesidely. The warning does not in itself establish that the Articles have fallen into this mistake.
iiiSupralapsarianism is the view that God's decision to elect should be regarded as preceding His decision to create and to permit man to fall. The view is based on the fact that in unfettered, purposeful actions, the final result represents the first decision that is made. Sublapsarianism (or infralapsarianism) views God's decision to elect as subsequent to His decision to create and to permit man to fall.
ivThe Thirty-Nine Articles, (London, 1961), p. 12.
vIbid., pp. 19f.
viiFor the scriptural character of the statements of the Articles, reference may be made to such works as An Exposition of the Thirty-Nine Articles, Historical and Doctrinal, by Edward Harold Browne, a former Bishop of Ely, and The Principles of Theology, by W. H. Griffith Thomas.
Table of Contents: Thirty-Nine Articles: The Historic Basis of Anglican Faith, by David Broughton Knox.
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 9:51 AM