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 Second Sunday in Lent.

The Collect

ALMIGHTY God, who seest that we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves; Keep us both outwardly in our bodies, and inwardly in our souls; that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Collect from the First Day of Lent is to be read every day in Lent after the Collect appointed for the Day.

Daily Bible Verse

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Confessing Evangelicals: Reformed Anglicans

"The need today is neither for a therapeutic church nor for a political church but for a confessing church, one that will boldly confess the claims of Christ in the face of the heresies and heterodoxies of our age. A truly confessing church will eventually draw up a confession of faith that will pinpoint the areas of danger to the integrity of the church's message and mission. Confessions are not as such infallible, but they may infallibly express the will of God for a particular situation in the history of the church. In a time when the church's trumpet is becoming indistinct and its ministry is vacillating in confusion, prophets are needed who will make visible the lines between the church and the world."

Donald Bloesch (1)

There those in the Anglican communion today and in the past who revel in the brevity of the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion. Is it not marvelous that we are not like those silly Puritans and Presbyterians who dot every i and cross every t? At the risk of sounding redundant and using a cliche let me say that those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it. In particular what comes to mind here in the United States is the Second Great Awakening. One of the revivals of the 19th century was the Cane Ridge Revivals in Bourbon County, Kentucky. I became familiar with this revival through my study of evangelism in college and, later, because I attended Asbury Theological Seminary, Wilmore, Kentucky. Wilmore is a few miles south of Lexington while Cane Ridge is on the north side. While Asbury Seminary is an Evangelical and Wesleyan seminary affiliated with several denominations representing the Wesleyan holiness movement of the 19th century, the other seminary in town is Lexington Theological Seminary which is affiliated with the more liberal Disciples of Christ denomination.

The 1801 Cane Ridge Revival is popular with Methodists and Wesleyans because of its association with Peter Cartwright. Pentecostals revere the revival because there were outbreaks of glossolalia and mass conversions and thus claim it as part of their heritage as well. While the meetings were a mixture of denominations including Baptists, Methodists, and Presbyterians, the organization of the event was planned by the Presbyterians. Because of the success of the revival some Presbyterians wanted to preserve the ecumenical spirit and retain in membership those who were converted there.

Barton Stone was ordained with the Presbyterian church but soon found himself in disagreement with the Westminster Confession of Faith as it expounded the catholic doctrine of the Trinity and as it explained the doctrine of total depravity. At the Cane Ridge Revival, Stone began to teach his views to the displeasure of the presbytery. Stone was expelled and later joined with Alexander Campbell, who was from a Reformed Baptist background. To make a long story short, out of this union eventually developed the Disciples of Christ, the Church of Christ, and the Christian Church. The Disciples of Christ felt that creeds, confessions of faith, etc., tended to impose on Scripture doctrines that were not there and that such creeds and confessions actually caused divisions leading to denominationalism. They saw such divisions as harmful to conversion of those outside the church.

Unfortuately, this has led to the current liberal theology of the Disciples of Christ. Of course, Barton Stone's anti-trinitarian and pelagian heresies were the genesis of the movement. The affinity here of Charles Finney's original association with the Presbyterians and his subsequent denial of the doctrine of total depravity should not be missed and one has to wonder if Finney was influenced by Stone? The point I wish to make here, however, is that an overreaction to a superb confession of faith from the Protestant Reformation led to the perversion of Scripture. The swan song of the Disciples of Christ and the other denominations arising out of this tradition is, "No creed but the Bible." The irony here is that this statement is itself a creed that is not found in the Bible!

At this point the Roman Catholics and the Orthodox and the Anglo-Catholics will say that the blame is on the doctrine of Sola Scriptura. However, a proper understanding of Sola Scriptura from the Reformed and Protestant theology is that the church is a secondary source of authority under the final authority of the Scriptures. Tradition is not equal to Scripture but Scripture is above tradition. That being said, the church is a guardian of the Scriptures and at the same time always correcting itself and reforming itself in accordance with the Scriptures. Not every doctrine is explicitly spelled out in Scripture but is instead necessarily implied and implicit in the total teaching of Scripture, including the doctrine of the Trinity.

The lesson to be learned for Evangelicals should be obvious here. Confessions of faith are necessary to preserve the true, catholic, and orthodox Christian faith. As Bloesch argues, a catholic and Evangelical Christianity is possible and necessary. Where I disagree with Bloesch is that he is so concerned with being ecumenical and "catholic" that he is willing to sacrifice too much of the particularity of a confession of faith. For example, he thinks the Cambridge Declaration is too sectarian!

What is distressing to me is that Evangelical Anglicans seem to revel in having the brevity of the Thirty-Nine Articles. Usually this is an out for those of them who refuse to acknowledge the Calvinistic bent of the articles. As Iain Murray noted in the previous article on this blog, the real issue in the Anglican Communion today for Evangelicals is not homosexual clergy or women ministers per se, though that is certainly a shared concern, but rather the issue is an unreasonable union with the enemies of the Gospel. Anglo-Catholics re-interpret the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion so as to make them of non-effect. While the Articles particularly condemn Roman Catholic and Anglo-Catholic views, this is somehow skirted and ignored by both Anglo-Catholics and Evangelicals in order to justify an unholy union between parties that are incompatible and historically opposed the one to the other.

The result of misreading the Anglican confession of faith or the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion is a latitudinarianism which sacrifices particularization of biblical doctrine for the sake of ecumenical fellowship and "catholic" union. Even Bloesch, despite the strong quote above, equivocates back and forth between particularization and overgeneralization. This is a natural tension between induction and deduction. However, when generalization wins out the Gospel becomes so ambiguous and generalized as to become no gospel at all.

If we observe the current state of the Anglican Communion worldwide, we can see that theological liberalism dominates in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom, while a conservative brand of Anglo-Catholicism dominates in Africa and the rest of the world. Anglican Evangelicals have lost the war to both theological liberalism and Tractarianism. From my perspective, Anglican Evangelicalism has lost its prophetic edge and has become dominated by the charismatic movement and by a capitulation to the triumphalistic theology of Anglo-Catholicism. Evangelicals are forced de facto to come to partnerships on Anglo-Catholic terms and not the other way around. This same sort of triumphalistic attitude is displayed by the theological liberals toward the more morally and socially conservative Anglo-Catholics in the United States and Africa.

The problem as I see it is that Evangelicals in general and Anglican Evangelicals in particular have lost touch with the five solas of the Protestant Reformation and with their confessional heritage expressed in documents like the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion (Anglican), the Westminster Standards, the Three Forms of Unity (Reformed), and the Augsburg Confession (Lutheran). Particularization of doctrine and a thorough exposition of the fundamentals and essentials of Evangelical Anglicanism is necessary to its future survival. For this reason, the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion need to be restored to a primary position of a true confession of faith. Furthermore, Anglican Evangelicals need to recall their roots in the theology of Bishop J. C. Ryle and the Reformed Anglican tradition.

If Anglican Evangelicals wish to be "catholic", they should seek to adhere to strict confessions of faith common to those Evangelicals who wish to recover and restore Evangelicalism's roots in the Protestant Reformation. Unfortunately, Donald Bloesch wishes to include Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and Anglo-Catholicism as among the catholic churches today. He equivocates between condemning their views on infused righteousness and seeing them as legitimate Christian churches. Unfortunately, the Protestant Reformation and the Council of Trent do not leave this option open to us and the doctrinal divisions have never been resolved even by Vatican II or by the dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and Lutherans. In fact, no resolution has ever been reached that has reversed any of the divisions that occurred in the Protestant Reformation. Those who say otherwise are merely fooling themselves. The Roman Catholic Church is merely trying to beguile and deceive Protestants into moving toward Rome just as Anglo-Catholics take the upper hand and force Evangelicals to join partnerships on Anglo-Catholic terms and not the other way around.

As Iain Murray put it so succinctly in the previous article: "The current Anglican evangelical response to homosexuality (at least the only one that gets publicity), while being faithful to Scripture on that point, is by-passing more fundamental issues." (See http://www.banneroftruth.org/pages/articles/article_detail.php?1470) So what is the way out for Anglican Evangelicals? I would contend that they should return to their English Reformation roots, which includes an Augustinian and Calvinistic theology as expressed in the Thirty-Nine Articles. While this doctrine is not explicitly "Five Point" Calvinism, the implication is most certainly there since it also includes a statement on double predestination (Article XVII, Of Predestination and Election). I would also recommend that Anglicans adhere to the Reformed standards as a secondary source of confessional theology, i.e. the Westminster Standards and the Three Forms of Unity. And finally, I would recommend that Anglicans adhere to the Cambridge Declaration, the Lausanne Covenant, The Gospel of Jesus Christ: An Evangelical Celebration, and other worthy Protestant and Evangelical confessions of faith (see http://www.tmch.net/lesson1.pdf).

While I would agree that we do not need a voluminous confession of faith, watering down the essentials and compressing doctrinal statements into extremely short or even non-existent statements of faith leads to the sort of theological heresy we see in the anti-trinitarian views of the Disciples of Christ and of some theologically liberal Anglicans. As Donald Bloesch states above, we need prophets today who are unwilling to compromise the Gospel for the sake of fellowship and ecumenical unity.

May the peace of God be with you!

[End note: The real irony is that Donald Bloesch claims to be "Evangelical" while at the same time promoting a Barthian theology of Scripture. Bloesch also has adopted a semi-universalistic theology of salvation whereby the reprobate receive a second chance in hell so that hell has fewer suffering torment forever. Bloesch also adopts a general atonement while claiming to be "Reformed." The only doctrine of the atonement which is truly Reformed is the particularistic view of atonement, which is applied only to the elect. Bloesch misquotes Calvin on this point where Calvin says that we should not limit how many many be saved and that the atonement is sufficient for the sins of the whole world. However, this takes Calvin out of context because Calvin meant that we do not know how many people living at this time will prove themselves to be elect by coming to faith in Jesus Christ at some point in their lives. This is not a hypothetical election but a real one. Calvin means to say that we should not limit our evangelistic efforts because the Bible clearly says that we are to invite everyone to salvation and God is able to save any of them. We leave the saving to God and we do the preaching of the Word, which is the means by which God saves the elect who were chosen before the foundation of the world.

At any rate, I find it incredible that InterVarsity Press, which is supposed to be an "Evangelical" publishing organization, would print a book which in fact attacks the biblical doctrine of hell as the punishment of the "final" judgment. The Bible nowhere says there is a second chance in hell. For it is appointed unto man once to die and then the judgment. (Hebrews 9:27).]

1. Donald Bloesch. The Church: Sacraments, Worship, Ministry, Mission. (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2002). Pages 34-35.

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