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Martyred for the Gospel

Martyred for the Gospel
The burning of Tharchbishop of Cant. D. Tho. Cranmer in the town dich at Oxford, with his hand first thrust into the fyre, wherwith he subscribed before. [Click on the picture to see Cranmer's last words.]

Collect of the Day

The Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany.
The Collect.

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.

Daily Bible Verse

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Ashley Null Speaks About Pelagianism

Ashley Null: The Constant Danger of Pelagianism

How might we better help people get in touch with their history when very little history is really taught in schools these days?

Well, I suppose one place to start is to help the Church better ...understand the Reformation so that we can tell our story to people more accurately.


The whole point of the Reformation is that the Church shouldn’t put on people burdens that they cannot bear. After all, just because you know something is right, that doesn’t mean you can do it. Apart for  [sic]  (from) the working of the Holy Spirit, our wills are bound to the deceitful devices and desires of our hearts.


Therefore, biblical preaching must always guard against an incipient Pelagianism which would turn God’s promise to renew us into tasks we must perform in order to please him. The Bible clearly states many dos and don’ts for human behaviour. However, just because our minds may understand how a Christian should live, that doesn’t mean that our wills can automatically fall in line.


As I said earlier, reason is not king in human beings, the heart is. Therefore, to change your actions, you must change your desires. But your desires will change, only if the Holy Spirit who wrote the Bible also writes his laws on your heart. Of course, biblical preaching must expound the dos and don’ts faithfully. Yet, if we hold up a standard, but do not make clear the means God has provided by which that standard may be met, we discourage people rather than being bearers of good news.


As we preach, we must constantly remind people that a new way of living is something God has promised to work in us, even as he continues to forgives [sic] (forgive) us our many short-comings along the way. As we preach, we must constantly remind people to turn in Christ through his Word and Sacraments, so that he can make the changes in them that they cannot make on their own. After all, true holiness is actually ever-increasing active dependence on God and his promises.


This Pelagian tendency is the reason why many people find Cranmer’s prayer book off putting. Pelagianism says that repentance is the work you must do to please God. When you abase yourself enough, when you feel guilty enough, when you have changed your ways enough, then God will decide you are worthy of being forgiven, then God will permit you to be called his child. When an Anglican Church preaches Pelagianism from the pulpit, people will hear it echoed in the penitential ethos of Cranmer’s liturgy.


So when the Confession asks people to acknowledge that they are ‘miserable sinners’, they hear, ‘If I grovel enough in self-loathing, then maybe God will accept me’. No wonder some people think that Cranmer’s God wants to make people miserable!


Sadly, that is the exact opposite of what Cranmer intended people to hear. He would want people to understand that repentance is a divine gift which God is pleased to work in them, not their work by which they make themselves pleasing to God. Indeed, they are already miserable because of their sins, but by coming to God they can experience real freedom.


Their sins may have put them under divine judgement and enslaved them to destructive habits which do not satisfy, but God has promised to rescue them. He will do for them what they cannot do for themselves. Because of Jesus, God will pardon them from their sin’s guilt and deliver them from its power. He will draw them into a new way of living, and he will make something beautiful out of the brokenness of their lives. Cranmer’s liturgy focusses  [sic] (focuses) on repentance, because this divine gift is truly good news.


Today our whole culture talks about addictions and how to break their power. The Church, however, often fails to realise that sin is the ultimate addiction, slowly destroying people, even as it draws them further and further away from God and their true selves. Cranmer and his fellow Reformers made no such mistake. They could face up to the gravity of sin, because they realised the superior power of God’s grace.


Human beings may be instinctively addicted to always having to prove their worth, but the cross of Christ shatters that lie. Human beings may fear they can never make the changes in their lives that are expected of Christians, but the Resurrection of Christ conclusively testifies to his power to make all things new. Human beings may feel rootless and estranged, but Christ has promised to prepare an eternal home for his people, even as he prepares them for it.


I think if the Church preaches these Reformations truths, people will hear good news indeed.


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