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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

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Sola Fide: The Protestant Doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone in the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion

[This article is posted also at VirtueOnline. Click here: Sola Fide.]


Sola Fide: The Protestant Doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone in the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion


In the 16th century a controversy raged within the Christian church in England and in continental Europe over the question of the salvation of individual believers before the judgment seat of Almighty God, who is eternally three persons as Father, Son and Holy Spirit yet one divine being. After this life is over there will be a judgment in the afterlife before God. The question is how can those who are born guilty of original sin and born with an inherently and intrinsically sinful human nature be justified before an omni-holy and omni-righteous God here and now and after death in the final judgment? As the question is put among Evangelicals, "Where will you spend eternity?"


The philosophical and theological premise of Holy Scripture is that God is Himself eternally self-existent, a doctrine called aseity. Before creation of the universe, time, or of any living creature God was, is and ever shall be from all eternity and into all eternity. He needs nothing to exist nor anything to sustain Him. He is eternally happy within the relationship of the divine trinity of persons. Thus, God needs no relationship with any of His creatures since He is self-contained and self-sufficient. To say otherwise would make God less than perfect and therefore not God at all. Moreover, God is the uncaused first cause of all that exists.


Thus, in any discussion of biblical doctrine one must begin with a basic understanding of the doctrine of God. Who and what God is in and of Himself determines everything else one understands about Him, including one's soteriology or doctrine of salvation. The basic premise of the Bible is that all creatures, including men and angels, are answerable to God and not the other way around. God answers to no one and is perfectly holy, just, righteous and good. His divine attributes would include omnibenevolence, omnipotence, omnipresence, and omniscience. So the beginning point with Reformed theology and with the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion is God and not man. The theology of the Articles of Religion and of the 1559/1662 Book of Common Prayer is theocentric/christocentric and not anthropocentric. This God and Christ centered logical order and systematic organization is deliberate and not merely coincidental.


If the beginning point of one's soteriology acknowledges these attributes, then to accuse God of being contradictory in any of these inherent qualities and attributes of His true nature and being is to make God less than God. Therefore, in any theodicy of God's goodness before man, one must account not for God before man but man before God. The theology of God's aseity presupposes His absolute control of all that exists and of all that comes to pass, including the fall of angels and the fall of mankind into rebellion against their Creator. This doctrine is directly implied in Article XVII of the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion. While God decrees all that happens, He does so without violating the free agency of human beings. (See Westminster Confession of Faith, Ch. 3:1). So even though the fall is decreed by God yet man is completely accountable and responsible for his own actions. Adam of his own free will, being a perfect man from his creation, chose to rebel against God. So all of Adam's offspring afterwards were born with the guilt of original sin and with a totally corrupted human nature. (See Genesis 6:5-6; Genesis 8:21; Job 14:4; 15:14; Psalm 51:5; Jeremiah 17:9; Matthew 15:19; Romans 3:23). Since the fall of Adam every single individual freely and willingly chooses to rebel because it is in his or her nature to live for himself or herself rather than to glorify God (Romans 1:18-21).


There are those who would deny that the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion are systematic. However, anyone familiar with the Protestant confessions of faith of the 16th century can see that there is a definite order and logical flow to the Articles. Articles I-VIII deal with the doctrine of God, Scripture and the universal creeds which are accepted by all three major branches of Christianity. Be that as it may, the focus on the catholic creeds, contrary to the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral, are not the only essentials to the catholic or universal faith of Christianity. This is evident enough in the Thirty-nine Articles, which are much more detailed and comprehensive in scope than the quadrilateral. While the so-called "Anglican quadrilateral" (see J. I. Packer) does uphold Scripture as "containing all things necessary to salvation," the original purpose of the quadrilateral was reunification with Rome. The article at Wikipedia makes this clear enough where it is stated that the "Quadrilateral had its genesis in an 1870 essay by an American Episcopal priest, William Reed Huntington. Huntington's purpose in proposing these four elements was to establish 'a basis on which approach may be by God's blessing, made toward Home Reunion,' ie., with the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches." (See Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral). It is evident that the quadrilateral's intent is to undermine the Protestant character of the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion as a document of the Protestant Reformation in England. One finds it difficult how James I. Packer at a recent lecture in Orlando, Florida 2009 could endorse the "Anglican quadrilateral" while at the same time contending for a Protestant and Reformed vision for the Anglican Communion.


Indeed, the contention of Evangelical and Reformed Anglican conservatives that the Thirty-nine Articles are the only basis for an ecumenical emphasis within Anglicanism holds true. As Archbishop Thomas Cranmer and the English Reformers would have put it, the Articles of Religion and the Protestant Reformation are "the" expression of the "catholic" faith in contradistinction to the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, etc. The short of it is that the Protestant Reformation is "catholic" while the Roman Catholic Church is sectarian, divisive, and in theological error. By implication, then, this would include the Tractarian movement and all high church movements that would move in the direction of reunification with Rome. The only basis for true unity is for Rome to move toward the Protestant and "catholic" position which upholds sola scriptura, sola gratia, sola fide, solus Christus, and soli Deo gloria. Thus, for there to be a truly "catholic" Anglican Communion, Anglo-Catholics and Tractarians all other high churchmen must move back in the direction of the Protestant position expressed in the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, the Homilies, and the 1662 Book of Common Prayer.


In Articles IX-XVIII the emphasis is on individual or personal religion or conversion while Articles XIX-XXXI deal with the communion as a whole or "corporate" religion. Scripture clearly teaches that election is both individual and corporate (see Genesis 12:1-3; 15:1; 17:7; Romans 9:10-13; Genesis 25:21-23) and this emphasis is not overlooked by the English Reformers as they formulated the final form of the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion.


Moreover, it is precisely because Scripture teaches justification by faith alone that we are obligated to accept the doctrine of sola fide or faith alone as the Articles have briefly outlined the doctrine in Article XI and in the context of Articles IX-XVIII. To take any one of the articles alone would undermine the context since each of the Articles naturally flows from one to the other, culminating in the doctrine of predestination of the saints in election and the passing over or preterition of the reprobate. Futhermore, the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion are the binding confession of faith of the Church of England and all Anglicans. To ignore or deny this historical fact of the English Reformation of the 16th century is to indulge in equivocation, dissimulation, and historical revisionism. Thus, if the original intent of the Thirty-nine Articles is to establish what the Anglican Communion believes the Holy Scriptures bindingly teach, then we are likewise obligated to accept the confession established in the articles. The short of it is that the articles, like a creed, are a summary of what the church believes the Scriptures infallibly teach. (At least the confession is a statement of the faith of the English church during the English Reformation. One is hard pressed to find truly Protestant and Reformed churchmen these days except perhaps in the Sydney Diocese of the Anglican Church in Australia.)


Another issue which affects how one understands the doctrine of justification by faith alone is one's understanding of the doctrine of original sin and its effect upon the human race since the fall of Adam. Again, this doctrine is established both in Scripture and in the Articles of Religion, which function like a creed in that the doctrines are binding unless and until it can be shown that the teaching of the confession is an incorrect interpretation of Scripture. It is indeed interesting that the Articles not only begin by establishing the doctrine of God and of Scripture and upholding the catholic or universal creeds in Articles I-XVIII but in the next section dealing with individual religion the first doctrine established is total depravity taught in Article IX and Article X. Justification by faith alone naturally follows from the doctrine of total depravity since the sinner is so blinded by his or her own selfishness and rebellion that he or she does not want to do anything other than to freely give in to the sinful nature. Sinners are sinful precisely because they are born slaves to sin (Psalm 51:5; 58:3; Isaiah 48:8; Romans 3:9-20; John 8:31-34). One should also note that Article IX has a corporate aspect in that Adam's individual sin brings both a corporate and an individual consequence. The entire human race is corrupted as a whole (Genesis 6:5-7, 11-12) yet every single individual within the progeny of Adam is guilty of original sin and is inherently and by nature corrupt and tainted by sin (Romans 3:10-12; Psalm 14:1-3; Psalm 53:1-3).


It has been well noted that the Protestant Reformers took the teachings of Augustine, bishop of Hippo, to their logical conclusions. Article IX clearly rejects the teachings of Pelagius and by implication the semi-pelagian position. Some Reformed scholars have argued that the Synod of Orange did not side completely with Augustine but rather came down somewhere in between the semi-pelagian party and the augustinian party since the doctrine of predestination is nowhere affirmed in the canons of the synod. Thus, the Synod of Orange in 529 was semi-augustinian rather than fully affirming the teaching of Augustine on irresistible grace and predestination. Nevertheless, even though the synod is not fully augustinian, clearly the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion are fully augustinian in theology and some would argue the articles are Calvinistic, including this writer. Later the Roman Catholic Church would reject semi-augustinianism and return to the semi-pelagian view which the Synod of Orange rejected.


The short of it is that one's understanding of God and the doctrines of sin and grace determines one's understanding of justification by faith. The Roman Catholic position, which is semi-pelagian, and the Arminian position (Protestant), which is semi-Augustinian, both agree that God gives a grace beforehand to every single individual. Thus, the doctrine of sin is counter-acted by grace such that each person has a "free" will to choose to accept or reject Jesus Christ as their savior. The main difference between Arminians and Roman Catholics would relate to the distinction between justification by faith alone and the Roman Catholic doctrine of justification as an inherent righteousness. Other than that both agree that the will of every single individual is now able to choose to accept Jesus Christ and to live a holy and sanctified life. The Anglo-Catholic view is so similar to the Roman Catholic view as to be virtually the same and is therefore semi-pelagian. So all three, Arminian, Roman Catholic, and Anglo-Catholic, insist on a synergistic cooperation between God and man in the order of salvation or ordo salutis. While technically the Arminians side with the Protestants on the issue of justification by faith alone, their view is so similar to the semi-pelagian view as to become almost indistinguishable for all practical applications in the local churches and among the laity. Some modern Reformed Evangelicals such as Michael Horton and R.C. Sproul have argued that Arminian Evangelicalism has often degenerated into outright pelagianism under the influence of the theology of Charles Finney's 19th century pragmatism.


The main difference between semi-pelagianism and full blown pelagianism is that Pelagius' school of thought said that man is not born with original sin but with a neutral soul and only becomes sinful by committing the first sin and following in the footsteps of Adam. Thus, the problem relates to social influences and environmental influences on a neutral soul. For Pelagius grace is an inherent quality given to all humans in creation and thus there are no gifts lost or removed in the fall. The fall of Adam is simply a bad example to the rest of us. Semi-pelagianism and semi-augustinianism differ in that semi-pelagianism says humans initiate salvation by believing and then grace steps in to assist them. "God helps those who help themselves." [See Robert A. Peterson and Michael D. Williams, WHY I AM NOT AN ARMINIAN, (InterVarsity: Downers Grove, 2004) p. 37]. Arminianism is semi-augustinian, on the other hand, and agrees with the Synod of Orange that man is unable to help himself and needs grace beforehand to initiate his faith and then man cooperates synergistically with grace toward his salvation.


The difference between the Arminian position of prevenient grace and the semi-pelagian view of prevenient grace is therefore negligible, though technically the Arminians fall on the Protestant side of things. Some Reformed scholars, however, claim the Arminians are closer to semi-pelagianism than to semi-augustinianism (see R.C. Sproul, "The Pelagian Captivity of the Church." Sproul's quotation from the Fleming edition of Luther's BONDAGE OF THE WILL establishes why the doctrine of original sin and total depravity is the logical antecedent of sola gratia and sola fide:


Historically, it's a simple matter of fact that Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, and all the leading Protestant theologians of the first epoch of the Reformation stood on precisely the same ground here. On other points they had their differences. In asserting the helplessness of man in sin and the sovereignty of God in grace, they were entirely at one. To all of them these doctrines were the very lifeblood of the Christian faith. A modern editor of Luther's works says this:

Whoever puts this book down without having realized that Evangelical theology stands or falls with the doctrine of the bondage of the will has read it in vain. The doctrine of free justification by faith alone, which became the storm center of so much controversy during the Reformation period, is often regarded as the heart of the Reformers' theology, but this is not accurate. The truth is that their thinking was really centered upon the contention of Paul, echoed by Augustine and others, that the sinner's entire salvation is by free and sovereign grace only, and that the doctrine of justification by faith was important to them because it safeguarded the principle of sovereign grace. The sovereignty of grace found expression in their thinking at a more profound level still in the doctrine of monergistic regeneration.2

That is to say, that the faith that receives Christ for justification is itself the free gift of a sovereign God. The principle of sola fide is not rightly understood until it is seen as anchored in the broader principle of sola gratia. What is the source of faith? Is it the God-given means whereby the God-given justification is received, or is it a condition of justification which is left to man to fulfill? Do you hear the difference? Let me put it in simple terms. I heard an evangelist recently say, "If God takes a thousand steps to reach out to you for your redemption, still in the final analysis, you must take the decisive step to be saved." Consider the statement that has been made by America's most beloved and leading evangelical of the twentieth century, Billy Graham, who says with great passion, "God does ninety-nine percent of it but you still must do that last one percent." (Ibid.)


R. C. Sproul has illuminated for the reader the issue laid out so clearly by the English Reformers in the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion. Article IX clearly shows that the Pelagian view is heretical:


Of Original or Birth Sin

Original sin standeth not in the following of Adam (as the Pelagians do vainly talk), but it is the fault and corruption of the nature of every man that naturally is engendered of the offspring of Adam, whereby man is very far gone from original righteousness, and is of his own nature inclined to evil, so that the flesh lusteth always contrary to the spirit; and therefore in every person born into this world, it deserveth God's wrath and damnation. And this infection of nature doth remain, yea, in them that are regenerated, whereby the lust of the flesh, called in Greek phronema sarkos (which some do expound the wisdom, some sensuality, some the affection, some the desire of the flesh), is not subject to the law of God. And although there is no condemnation for them that believe and are baptized, yet the Apostle doth confess that concupiscence and lust hath itself the nature of sin.

Moreover, the English Reformers understood that man is totally corrupt and by nature evil (Article IX), that mankind's condition is such than he or she cannot help himself or herself (Article X), and that justification is by faith alone (Article XI). This logically follows because even after conversion the natural corruption remains. Thus, good works done before conversion are unacceptable as a means of justification before God (Article XIII), nor are good works sufficient to justify us after conversion but are instead an imperfect fruit of justification. A living or "lively" faith produces good works but those good works could never justify sinners before God prior to conversion or after conversion. This is why the Roman Catholic position is wrong. The Roman Catholic position is that justification and sanctification are essentially the same thing and that justification is a subjective and inherent grace working to make the heart perfect in actuality before God.


The Augustinian and Reformed view, however, is that since we can never be perfect in this life, then only the objective justification accomplished for us by the active obedience of Christ can merit for us eternal life. The Augustinian view therefore views justification and sanctification as distinct from one another. Justification is an objective and forensic application of the atoning death of Christ on the cross and is applied to the heart by faith and faith alone. That faith is itself a gift. "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast." (Ephesians 2:8-9, ESV) 1 For Reformed Evangelicals, Anglicans, and confessing Protestants faithful to the Reformation then, sanctification can never be the ground for salvation. Justification is the basis, ground, and root of salvation from which all else flows. Sanctification is a fruit of the Spirit which flows naturally but imperfectly out of the believer after he or she has been justified by faith alone or sola fide.



Evangelical and Reformed Anglicans wonder why so-called "Evangelical" Anglicans in the common cause movement can assume that the theological war between the Protestant and Reformed side of Anglicanism and the Tractarian or Anglo-Catholic high church movement is over simply because of the controversy over the immorality of openly practicing homosexuals in church membership, ministerial offices, and consecrated as bishops. Yes, homosexuality is an issue worthy of excommunication of those in violation of God's moral law. However, those in violation of the law and the Gospel are also worthy of excommunication. Martin Luther said the doctrine of justification by faith alone is one of the essential doctrines by which the church both locally and universally stands or falls. To compromise this doctrine is to commit a schism every bit as dangerous and heretical as the homosexuality issue. Unless and until the Anglican communion understands this Evangelicals who are on the Protestant and Reformed side of Anglicanism cannot with good conscience be in fellowship with or in communion with those who commit the heresy of works righteousness or justification by merits rather than justification by faith and faith alone.


Those in the common cause movement, like many in the broader Evangelical movement, have compromised the law and the Gospel in order to accommodate to pragmatic concerns of "ecumenicalism" and "evangelism" as espoused by a christless Christianity. Unwittingly, those in the common cause movement are laying the foundations for a future compromise of the moral law in the same way that theological liberals in the Anglican communion have already done in the present controversy. When ecumenical and humanistic concerns are elevated above the propositional truths of an inerrant and infallible Bible it is only a matter of time before liberalism again rears its ugly head. Not only so, but those espousing a false gospel of merits deny the very Gospel for which Christ died and for which so many Christians were martyred in the history of the church.


Therefore, those of us who are Reformed within Anglicanism must never accept a truce with Anglo-Catholics for any reason. While we may be "cobelligerents" against theological liberalism and the immorality of homosexual sins and behavior and those practicing such abominations, Reformed Evangelicals and Tractarians/Anglo-Catholics have absolutely nothing in common. For that reason any "common cause" movement which accepts any accommodation to the false gospel of Tractarianism or Anglo-Catholicism is no better than accommodating to the theological liberalism rampant in the Anglican communion. In fact, I would argue that the theological roots of the current crisis lie in the anthropocentric focus of semi-pelagian theology of both Anglo-Catholicism and Roman Catholicism. If there is to be any hope of revival of the Anglican communion it will be in the theological roots and foundations of the Protestant and English Reformation. These roots not only are Puritan to some degree but openly Calvinistic and Augustinian.


As the prayer of humble access puts it so clearly:


We do not presume to come to this thy Table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table. But thou art the same Lord, whose property is always to have mercy: Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his body, and our souls washed through his most precious blood, and that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us. Amen.





1The Holy Bible : English standard version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

1 comment:

Reformation said...

Spot-on throughout this discussion. "Compromise" is the name of the Anglican-game and, in time, this will logically work itself outwards...unfortunately. I am convinced that ignorance and indifference to these vital doctrinal matters prevails. You may quote me on this--this includes Jim Packer and the recently deceased Peter Toon. Charlie, spot-on with these comments.

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