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

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Fellowship with Idolaters?

2 Corinthians 6:14-18 (ESV)14 Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? 15 What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? 16 What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, "I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 17 Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you, 18 and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty.

Ephesians 5:7 (ESV)7 Therefore do not become partners with them;

Ephesians 5:11 (ESV)11 Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.

I am constantly amazed when I see those who profess to be Reformed and Evangelical endorsing those who are openly and professedly Roman Catholic or Anglo-Catholic or some other apostate version of natural religion. The theology of both the Roman Catholic Church and the Tractarians is full of idolatry and man-made religion where man becomes the center of his own justification and sanctification and God, being limited in His abilities by man's free will, cannot do anything to save the elect or justify sinners. So salvation is essentially left up to sinful and capricious sinners who may or may not choose to accept God's way. This view limits God and in fact makes God less than God so that man is sovereign over God rather than God being sovereign over man. But this goes back to the rebellion in the garden of Eden. Adam chose to listen to Satan and believed that he could become sovereign like God and that he could live in independence from God. How wrong he was.

Although our wills are free wills, it is incorrect to say that they are independent wills over against God's will. The possibility of this concept was the false suggestion of the devil to Adam, grasped at by man but certainly not achieved by him, though man thinks he has attained to it and that he is in fact free from God's sovereignty. Adam's mistake was that of thinking that by rebelling against God he would become sovereign. But no creature can ever become sovereign over against its almighty Creator, and no will can be free if by this is meant independent of its Creator.

[David Broughton Knox. D. Broughton Knox: Selected Works. Volume I: The Doctrine of God. Tony Payne, ed. (Kingsford NSW: Matthias Media, 2000). P. 128.]

While this might not seem to apply directly to the academic world of seminary and theology, let me say that I believe academic "freedom" does not apply in the same way to ecclesiastical institutions like theological colleges and seminaries. It is true that theologians should be free to pursue their studies and to think for themselves. However, there are confessional limitations to what academic freedom means for Evangelical and Reformed Christians. For example, the theologian is not free to go beyond the limits of Holy Scripture, which is our only infallible rule of faith and morality and practice.

It is also true that all truth is God's truth wherever we may find it. But it should be remembered that natural revelation is always subordinate to special revelation in matters of morality, ethics, and soteriology, etc. So we may in fact have much to learn from other traditions within Christianity, even the Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and the Anglo-Catholics. But in doing such hard thinking one must never compromise Holy Scripture. We may even be on friendly terms with such people. But it is also true that these men are enemies of the Gospel and this fact cannot be forgotten. When we begin to fellowship with unfruitful works of darkness--whether it be in moral compromise with the world or in theological doctrinal compromise with promoters of natural religion from below--the result is always disaster for ourselves and for those we instruct as pastors, ministers, and teachers of the Bible.

The teacher is held more responsible than the student because he has influence over many people over long periods of time, sometimes even a lifetime. So people like James I. Packer or Billy Graham are doubly responsible for what they say publicly. Seminary professors likewise have influence over many men who are called into pulpit ministry and will influence generations of Christians to come. I cannot state more emphatically that what we teach and preach must be Scripturally accurate and faithful to God's infallible and inspired Word. If we get it wrong, there will be hell to pay for those who hear us and are influenced by our preaching and teaching. Jesus and the apostles teach us to be careful what we teach (Matthew 5:19; Galatians 3:10; James 2:10; Luke 6:40; 2 Cor. 13:11; Heb. 13:21; 1 Pet. 5:10; 1 Cor. 1:10; 2 Tim. 3:17).

I have great sympathy for the Puritans because they clearly saw the implications of compromise in doctrinal matters. However, I think the Puritans were overzealous in rejecting the 1662 Book of Common Prayer and following a precise liturgy. Opening the door to loosely organized liturgies leads eventually to natural religion as much as over-emphasizing Tradition as a source of liturgy apart from guidance from the Holy Scriptures. That being said, however, the Puritans were absolutely right to call for separation from those promoting man-made religion based on unbiblical traditions of the past.

In the Anglican Communion there has been too little emphasis on polemics, apologetics and dogmatic theology. Instead of seeing the 39 Articles of Religion as the Protestant confession of faith they are there has been a tendency to re-interpret them so that every man and sect does what seems right in his own eyes. If the Bible is the final word in all matters of faith (Article 6), then the acceptance of the Articles as a confession of what Scripture teaches is essential. Since the 39 Articles attack natural religion, Roman Catholic errors in soteriology, and other divisions, then we are obligated to stand for what they say without compromise. We ought to be "fundamentalists" for the Anglican faith and stand firm on the Articles.

Likewise, many think that because the Articles do not speak to every issue that this means the loopholes allow for their own particular departure from what the Scriptures teach. For example, the Articles nowhere mention the doctrine of the final judgment or eternal torment and eternal punishment in hell. Some Anglicans like John Stott have concluded that the doctrine of the final judgment therefore does not require its tandem doctrine of a conscious punishment of eternal souls in hell forever. It does not follow that simply because the Articles do not address every doctrinal issue that we are therefore free to interpret the Bible any old way we like as Anglicans. Clearly eternal punishment is not a tertiary or even a secondary issue from the standpoint of Holy Scripture. We are obligated to accept every word of Scripture as true and so the doctrine of eternal punishment is not optional. It is integral to who God is as a just and holy God who requires perfect justice against all wickedness.

There are those likewise who try to make the doctrine of particular atonement a secondary issue as well. Of course, whether they will acknowledge it or not, Amyraldianism is essentially a doctrine meant to appease those who struggle with the idea that God is completely and absolutely sovereign in salvation. It is in effect natural religion to reason that God must make the atonement "potentially available" to all and that "all men are savable." But this is to reason from below and not from special revelation and God's inspired Word. It follows that if only those who believe receive "all the benefits of his passion", then the atonement is particular to believers and, by implication, particular to the elect.

The Lord's Supper itself clearly indicates the particular atonement since it is a sacrament meant to build our faith in what Christ did for us on the cross and to participate in the Lord's table is to truly receive and partake of the true body and true blood of Christ by spiritual eating and drinking by faith in the heart. Only believers partake of the body and blood of Christ and those who eat unworthily (without faith) do not eat or drink the body and blood of Christ but only receive "empty signs." The outward sign without the inward grace is an empty sign which is effectual for the unworthy communicant.

It follows then that the post communion prayer in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer implies particular atonement:

After shall be said as followeth. LORD and heavenly Father, we thy humble servants entirely desire thy fatherly goodness mercifully to accept this our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving; most humbly beseeching thee to grant, that by the merits and death of thy Son Jesus Christ, and through faith in his blood, we and all thy whole Church may obtain remission of our sins, and all other benefits of his passion. And here we offer and present unto thee, O Lord, ourselves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and lively sacrifice unto thee; humbly beseeching thee, that all we, who are partakers of this holy Communion, may be fulfilled with thy grace and heavenly benediction. And although we be unworthy, through our manifold sins, to offer unto thee any sacrifice, yet we beseech thee to accept this our bounden duty and service; not weighing our merits, but pardoning our offences, through Jesus Christ our Lord; by whom, and with whom, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, all honour and glory be unto thee, O Father Almighty, world without end. Amen.

The Lord's Supper, 1662 Book of Common Prayer.

Now if the sacrament of the Lord's Supper is particular only to true believers, it follows that "all the benefits of His passion" applies only to the elect chosen by God from before the foundation of the world. Not only so but Scripture itself implicitly and explicitly teaches the doctrine of particular atonement. The passover, for example, says that only those houses with blood applied to the doorposts or lintels would be spared from the angel of death (Exodus 12:7; 21-23). In the Gospel accounts of Jesus' ministry and in Acts we likewise see the doctrine of particular atonement addressed plainly (Matthew 1:21; John 10:11, 15-17; Acts 20:28).

The trouble is when we begin to put an anthropocentric or man-centered theology ahead of scriptural authority and a theocentric and christocentric theology we begin to cater to the concerns of sinful men and to put the emphasis on "seeker sensitive" theology. This is natural religion or pelagianism every bit as much as Roman Catholicism's emphasis on man's efforts and a semi-pelagianism which in the end leaves salvation in man's own efforts and hands.

Pentecostalism arose out of the Wesleyan Arminian movement precisely because the emphasis is not on Scripture but on "free will." The old Roman Catholic accusation that the sovereignty of God makes man morally unaccountable for his own wickedness raises its ugly head again in the church growth/seeker sensitive soteriology, Wesleyanism, pentecostalism/neo-pentecostalism, and all other theologies which seek to cater to sinners rather than to glorify God.

For this reason I do not fully endorse the Sydney Anglicans or any other denomination which is not absolutely committed to Scripture as the final word. The Sydney Anglicans are not willing to fully condemn Anglo-Catholics as heretics precisely because they view it as a matter of "preference." Essentially, if we are unwilling to condemn Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and Anglo-Catholicism as natural religion and therefore heretical, then no matter how much we protest we are really saying that the 39 Articles, justification by faith alone, etc., are secondary matters we can agree to disagree about.

I believe that, although Arminianism and Amyraldianism in its numerous variations are "secondary" issues among Evangelicals, secondary issues can lead to compromise in primary issues. In other words, particular atonement is technically a secondary issue. But once that line is crossed it is only a short step to Arminianism. Once we accept Arminianism and its emphasis on "free will" above God's absolute sovereignty and the gutting of Scripture's emphasis on God's kingship over creation, then it is only a very short step indeed to embracing outright heretics as "brothers in Christ." We can see this plainly exhibited in Billy Graham's acceptance of the Roman Catholic Church as a legitimate church which he invites to his crusades and to his platform. So after reaching the "Arminian" decision, converts are then invited to choose a church of his own liking. Naturally, this would include the Roman Catholic Church or the Eastern Orthodox Church together will all their emphases on natural religion, man's ability to save himself by good works and self justification after baptism. Billy Graham even went so far as to endorse the liberal theology that people may be saved by an unconscious faith in Jesus Christ even if they have not heard the Gospel preached, which flies in the face of Article 18 and Acts 4:11-12 upon which the Article is based!

It seems to me then that we ought to separate ourselves from unbelievers even in doing academic theology. Those who excuse their compromise in the interest of theological education are no better than the Christian who flaunts his freedom in Christ by visiting the local whore house or philanders at the local dance hall. Cavorting with heretics on friendly terms without challenging those heretics polemically and dogmatically is to give an implied endorsement of their position. Not only so but pastors and ministers ought to publicly oppose heresy, heretics, and false doctrine and not simply immorality.

The Bible openly condemns immorality but it is also clear that Jesus and the Apostles did not turn the world upside down by agreeing disagreeably. Jesus was crucified precisely because he refused to adapt the message for the sake of the self righteous, the religious, or the sinner. The apostles were martyred because they refused to compromise the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The early church was built on the foundation of Jesus, the apostles and the prophets, all of whom almost without exception were martyred. Tertullian said that the seed bed of the church is the blood of the martyrs. And need I remind you that the English Reformers like Cranmer, Ridley and Latimer were martyred for their faith in the Bible? Justification by faith alone was not an option for them. I would even go so far as to say that particular atonement and Christ's subsitutionary and atoning death for siners is an essential of the Christian faith and ought not to be given over to secondary issues precisely because it obviously does lead to other doctrinal compromises in subsequent generations.

The Gospel Coalition, the Anglican Church League, Church Society, the Sydney Diocese, and other Anglican Evangelical groups talk a good talk. But when we begin to look deeper all of them have compromised with heretics to one degree or another. James Packer signed the Evangelicals and Catholics Together document as did Gerald Bray, the editor of the Churchman (a publication of Church Society). Many so-called conservative Anglicans have joined the Fellowship of Confessioning Anglicans or the Anglican Church in North America, the new dual province of the Anglican Communion here as the Episcopal Church remains in full communion as well. But the problem is that "orthodox" Anglo-Catholics, who oppose homosexual immorality and the ordination of homosexual priests and consecration of homosexual bishops, are still heretics because they deny the 39 Articles and Holy Scripture. Anglo-Catholics not only promote natural religion and idolatry but they are adamantly opposed to the very Gospel itself just as Rome is still officially pronouncing Protestants as anathema in the Canons on Justification from the Council of Trent in the 16th century.

It is therefore a moral and biblical obligation for Anglicans who claim to be Reformed and Evangelical to separate themselves from ungodly associations and secular organizations/denominations/provinces which outright reject the Gospel and re-interpret it by their idolatrous natural religion from below. Our emphasis should be on the biblical basis for fellowship and not on tolerance and compromise with heresy, heretics and pelagianism. This can only lead to the slippery slope of unbelief and theological relativism. I would say the same of the Presbyterians who are making similar compromises regarding the new perspectives on Paul, Federal Vision, neo-nominalism, seeker-sensitive church growth, and theonomy.

The real question here is one Jesus implies in John 10:10-15. Will ministers be faithful to Jesus Christ and the Holy Scriptures or will they be hired as company men for secular organizations whose only concern is their own benefit? In other words, denominations operate for monetary and earthly gain. One's entire career depends not on doctrinal purity, faithfulness to Christ and the Gospel, or one's true conversion. Rather one's career depends on being faithful the "company" and anyone who dares to call the company a fraud on the basis of the Scriptures and the historic Anglican faith as confessed in the 39 Articles, the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, and the Ordinal is soon thrown out of the secular organization on his ear.

Our call is not loyalty to secular denominations. Our call is not loyalty to seminaries or theological colleges. Our call is not loyalty to church societies or Evangelical organizations. Our call is and can only be one call. It is a call to be faithful to Jesus Christ as Lord of all and to be faithful to Holy Scripture, whatever it explicitly teaches--including particular atonement. Everything else is prone to error.

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