"The Episcopal Church has abandoned Scripture and no longer sees it as infallible at all"
Recently ACNA (Anglican Church in North America - an orthodox breakaway from the Episcopal Church which has serious issues with what would historically have simply been labeled as heresy, unbiblical practices, and apostate beliefs) have released the first draft of their Catechism for the training and teaching of the church about true doctrine. You can download it here http://anglicanchurch.net/?/main/catechism . By many it has been praised, and many 'big names' have given it their stamp of approval. But is this epic 345 question long session really a solid and game changing resource? More importantly, is it actually 'Anglican'?
Now for many people the answer to the question of 'what is Anglican' is kind of like asking how many decimal places π has - an impossible thing to answer. I, however, think the answer is quite simple, if unpopular. The canons of the Church of England, the 'Mother Church', ask this question: what is the "doctrine of the Church of England"? The answer given in Canon A5 is this
"The doctrine of the Church of England is grounded in the Holy Scriptures, and in such teachings of the ancient Fathers and Councils of the Church as are agreeable to the said Scriptures.
In particular such doctrine is to be found in the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, The Book of Common Prayer, and the Ordinal."
To put this is plain English, the doctrine of the Church of England is that of Scripture, and the doctrines of the early church are accepted as authoritative only to the extent that they are agreeable to the Scriptures. But what does this look like? What is the right theology that is grounded in the Holy Scriptures and which of the many teachings of the early church are agreeable to Scripture? The answer from an Anglican point of view is crystal clear and no-nonsense: This correct theology and doctrine is found in the Historical Formularies the Church of England: The 39 Articles, the 1662 BCP (not 1549!) and the Ordinal. Basically everything you find in the modern printings of the 1662 BCP. Canons A2, A3 and A4 affirm that the doctrines of the 39 Articles are agreeable to the Scriptures and any real Anglican can assent to them in good conscience, likewise the doctrines of the BCP and Ordinal are agreeable to the Scriptures and not repugnant to them and are thus authoritative.
What makes a theology Anglican? It's agreement with the 39 Articles, the BCP, and the Ordinal. It really is that simple.
What makes a theology Anglican? It's agreement with the 39 Articles, the BCP, and the Ordinal. It really is that simple.
As a real Anglican I obviously think that these Historical Formularies are the correct interpretation of Scripture, thus when looking at the ACNA Catechism I am not going to proof text it from Scripture, I am going to proof text it against the 39 Articles and the BCP because what these say sums up the teaching of Scripture. In the following if I capitalise the word article and give a number, e.g. "Article 10", I am referring to the 39 Articles.
"What makes a theology Anglican? It's agreement with the 39 Articles, the BCP, and the Ordinal. It really is that simple."
I think that there is much which is positive and truly great about the ACNA Catechism, and so I will begin there.
The Catechism starts with Jesus. How great this is cannot be overemphasised. Christianity is all about Jesus, He is Lord, God, and Saviour, all the Scriptures are about Him and all of time revolves around Him. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus. The first section of the Catechism is called "beginning with Christ." Fantastic!8. How does God save you?
Many of the answers given in this first section are top notch stuff. They are short, sound, and helpful. For example:
Many of the answers given in this first section are top notch stuff. They are short, sound, and helpful. For example:
God saves me by grace, which is his undeserved love given to me in and through Jesus. “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
10. Is there any other way of salvation?
No. The Apostle Peter said of Jesus, “There is salvation in no one else” (Acts 4:12). Jesus is the only one who can save me and reconcile me to God. (1 Timothy 2:5)
Here we see two very important doctrines affirmed which are central to the Gospel and the true Protestant and Reformed religion. Namely we have salvation by grace alone - and grace understood as the undeserved gift of God to us. We also have, and this is becoming increasingly important to recognise, the orthodox teaching of the church on salvation - only Jesus can bring salvation, only belief in Him can grant entry to heaven. Praise God for this stand for the Biblical Gospel!
Another very good answer in this section is given to this following question:
16. What does God grant in saving you?
God grants me reconciliation with him (2 Corinthians 5:17-19), forgiveness of sins (Colossians 1:13-14), adoption into his family (Galatians 4:4-7), citizenship in his Kingdom (Ephesians 2:19-21, Philippians 3:20), union with him in Christ (Romans 6:3-5), new life in the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:4-5), and the promise of eternal life (John 3:16; 1 John 5:12).
This is a great answer, it takes in not just a limited and blinkered view of salvation but the whole testimony of the Scriptures, it is broad but Biblically so. A lively presentation of the Gospel and the preaching of it week in and week out should involve all of these things.
Secondly, it is worth noting the number of Scriptural proof-texts offered in the Catechism. The authors are clearly aware of the need to ground their beliefs in God's revealed Word. This is commendable and sets out the only good way to do theology - namely with the support of Scripture.
The questions dealing with Holy Scripture (26-37) are strong especially towards the end when it looks to the paramount importance of reading and learning and growing through the Scriptures as a Christian. The central place given to Scripture in discipleship is something which cannot be emphasised enough and the answers to 35 and 36 are very strong in modelling this. This is even further expanded in 224-229 which are likewise great in modelling Biblical study and Scriptural based Christianity.
Part Two of the Catechism is "Believing in God" and begins by looking at the Apostles Creed as the most simple and essential of the creeds given its early nature and use in baptism preparation by the early church.
The Answer to question 23 is solid; why do we recognise the creeds as authoritative? Because they are grounded in Scripture and bear witness to the teaching of the Word. This is the answer of Article 8 and is both true and Anglican. As a Church we do not reject Tradition just because it is Tradition, we weigh it against the Scriptures and if it is true and useful we accept it, if it is untrue or potentially abused we discard it.
"Many of the answers given are top notch stuff. They are short, sound, and helpful"
In dealing with the teaching of the Apostles Creed the Catechism is to be commended, it sticks to orthodox teaching on the deity of Christ and His death, it affirms the Virgin Birth, and a bodily resurrection of Jesus. An example of this is the teaching on Christ's death which says:
"Though humanly a miscarriage of justice, his execution fulfilled God’s plan that Jesus would bear my sins and die the death that I deserve, so that I could be saved from sin and eternal condemnation and reconciled to God." ACNA Catechism 60.
Good stuff, keeps it simple and accessible but proclaims the substitutionary nature of the atonement from which many are these days shying away from - to their shame. The substitutionary nature of the atonement is inherently Anglican. The Collect for the 4th Sunday in Lent shows that we deserve death and damnation and God by His grace forgives us:
"Grant, we beseech thee, Almighty God, that we, who for our evil deeds do worthily deserve to be punished, by the comfort of thy grace may mercifully be relieved; through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ."
This doctrine of substitutionary atonement is even more apparent in the Homilies, especially the Homily Of The Salvation Of All Mankind and also the Homily for Good Friday. Remember that though not strictly part of the Historic Formularies, we are told in no uncertain terms in Article 35 that the doctrine the Homilies contain is "godly and wholesome doctrine" and indeed they are to be read in churches as authoritative teaching from the Church. Following the Historic Formularies there is no resource more important in defining what is truly Anglican than the Homilies. Indeed Article 11 creates the principle that the Homilies are the truest commentary upon the Articles and how we should understand them. Importing an understanding upon the Articles which is completely rejected in the Homilies is simply historically untenable - much to the distress of Ritualists.
Questions 68-70 deal with the Ascension and it is good to see some sound teaching and application on this often overlooked aspect of Jesus' saving work. Too often has the Ascension and Session of Christ been ignored or over-spiritualised. Much of our assurance and hope is founded on the present ministry of Christ before the throne of God and to see it so clearly portrayed is indeed heartening.
To conclude the good points about the ACNA Catechism I would want to say two things. Firstly, anything I have not mentioned here and will not mention in a moment is not mentioned because it is neither outstanding nor terrible, neither Anglican nor un-Anglican. Much of the Catechism is just good, simple, basic, Christian teaching which it is hard to find issues with. Secondly, I think the biggest strength in this Catechism is that it makes a conscious effort not only to ground itself in Scripture but to actually apply it to our daily lives and ask the question "what does this look like in real life?" The Catechism is not just a Question and Answer session on bland points of theology but an interactive and passionate plea for Christian living.
"Importing an understanding upon the Articles which is completely rejected in the Homilies is simply historically untenable - much to the distress of Ritualists. "
From the above it will hopefully be apparent that I believe there are many strengths to the ACNA Catechism. There are, however, two major issues with it concerning whether or not it is 'Anglican' and a few side issues too. Let us deal with these major issues first.
An 'Anglican' Catechism?
The first alarm bells rang early on in the document, when considering salvation in Question 2 it looks to the 'human condition' with these words:
2. What is the human condition?
The universal human condition is that, though made for fellowship with our Creator, we have been cut off from him by self-centred rebellion against him, leading to guilt, shame, and fear of death and judgement. This is the state of sin. (Genesis 3; Romans 3:23)
The problem is that this reads potentially as meaning that our being cut off from God is purely by our "self-centred rebellion against Him". But we are clearly told in Article 9 that the human condition of sin and separation from God "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..."
Sin is not just 'self-centred rebellion against God' - it is the cause of that self-centredness, namely our corrupt and depraved nature: this is the 'human condition.' Whilst Answer 47 recognises that we have inherited a "fallen and corrupt nature, and I too sin and fall short of God's glory" this is a far cry from the fullness of the doctrine of Total Depravity as shown in Articles 9-11 in that it does not name this fallen and corrupt nature as itself sin. Question 106 concerning the inward and spiritual grace received through baptism is much better in affirming "I am born a sinner by nature, separated from God" but this comes too late and is arguably still too little. When starting out with Jesus and Gospel it is vital to get the 'bad news' and the reality of our plight crystal clear. There is no good drawn from dressing up our nature and sins as not as bad as they are, no help for the Gospel in even allowing the possibility that, as the mantra of modern society chimes, we are all good people at heart.
"The Arminian tone of the ACNA Catechism is simply inconsistent with true Anglicanism."
You could still read the above Question and Answer as not being against the Articles but its deficiency is made clear in Question 14. Question 14 looks at how a person may repent and place faith in Jesus Christ. It's very first word sets the Arminian and non-Anglican tone.
14. How may a person repent and place faith in Jesus Christ?
Anyone may repent and place their faith in Jesus Christ at any time. One way to do this is by sincerely saying a prayer similar to the Prayer of Repentance and Faith given above. (John 15:16; Acts 16:31-34; Romans 10:9; Hebrews 12:12)
Really? Anyone at any time? I was under the impression from both Scripture and the Articles that because we are Totally Depraved not just by deeds but by nature that
"The condition of Man after the fall of Adam is such, that he cannot turn and prepare himself, by his own natural strength and good works, to faith, and calling upon God: Wherefore we have no power to do good works pleasant and acceptable to God, without the grace of God by Christ preventing us, that we may have good will, and working with us when we have that good will." Article 10.
Clearly, contra the Catechism, we cannot just turn to God and "at any time" because we need God's grace to 'prevent' us - that is 'enable us' to do so.
Arminians, especially of the Wesleyan kind, generally argue that God gives everybody 'Prevenient Grace' thus enabling 'anybody at any time' to turn to Him in faith. But Article 17 is quite clear that before the foundations of the world, before time itself and creation, God
"hath constantly decreed by His counsel secret to us, to deliver from curse and damnation those whom He hath chosen in Christ out of mankind, and to bring them by Christ to everlasting salvation, as vessels made to honour."
The important phrase here is "those whom He hath chosen.... out of mankind" - that is, not everybody but only the elect. Only these people may turn to Christ, and even they only when God graciously and for no good works of their own opens their hearts to His Word. The Historical Formularies of the Church of England are unashamedly Reformed - uncompromisingly Calvinist (not in the 5 point Dort sense but the historical sense). To claim that true and historical Anglicanism is not Reformed concerning election is nothing but an insidious lie. There are good reasons why Wesley rejected the Articles and removed the ones about election when he rewrote them for his churches abroad - he was an Arminian. There are good reasons why Whitfield and Toplady and Ryle all railed against their opponents not just with Scripture but by wielding the Articles - because they plainly supported their position and claim to be the true heirs of Anglicanism.
The Arminian tone of the ACNA Catechism is simply inconsistent with true Anglicanism. Even its emphasis on 'praying the prayer' and its 'asking Jesus into your heart' mentality is painful to read from a historical perspective. Whilst it is not wrong to call people to commit their life to Christ and 'pray the prayer', without the Biblical doctrine of Assurance found only in the Reformed Tradition this revivalist spirituality is a recipe for disaster and cycles of fear and doubt in the life of the believer.
Secondly, we turn to the teaching on the Sacraments in the Catechism. All I can say is "Oh dear." It seems that the revisionist enterprise of the Tractarians has won the war in the USA so completely that on some issues people cannot see where Roman Catholicism ends and Anglicanism begins.
Questions 102-115 which are on the Lord's Supper and Baptism are fine, they largely just repeat the teaching of the 39 Articles and BCP Catechism. But in 116 comes the *facepalm* moment:
116. Are there other sacraments?
Other rites and institutions commonly called sacraments include confirmation, absolution, ordination, marriage, and anointing of the sick. These are sometimes called the sacraments of the Church.
The ignoring or subverting of the Articles is seen in Question 117 which asks how these five differ from the two Sacraments of the Gospel.
117. How do these differ from the sacraments of the Gospel?
They are not commanded by Christ as necessary for salvation, but arise from the practice of the apostles and the early Church, or are states of life blessed by God from creation. God clearly uses them as means of grace.
Do you see the difference? 117 here says that these arise from the practise of the apostles and the early church - done, finished, fin. But this is not what the Articles say. The Articles say that they arise from the corrupt following of the Apostles. The inclusion of the word 'corrupt' is very significant.
To say that "God clearly uses them as a means of grace" is to seriously overstep the allowance of the Articles' teaching. Nowhere do the Articles or the BCP Catechism say these things convey grace as do the Sacraments of the Gospel. Now in the services we may pray for God's grace, as we do in marriage, but it is not a vehicle of grace in the same way as the Sacraments of the Gospel for they "have not like nature of Sacraments with Baptism, and the Lord's Supper, for that they have not any visible sign or ceremony ordained of God." Article 25. What is a Sacrament? It is an outward visible sign and ceremony ordained and appointed by God which we are ordered to continue by which He has chosen in His mercy to work His grace through. These other things are simply not this.
"on some issues people cannot see where Roman Catholicism ends and Anglicanism begins."
This is made abundantly clear in the first commentary on the Articles which was written by Thomas Rogers in 1587 (or at least the part dealing with the final 20 Articles was, the first 19 were published some time before). Written so close to the time of the writing of Articles it gives a very important guide on how they were intended to be understood. In his commentary on Article 25 Rogers bluntly and unapologetically calls the other five "no sacrament". Rogers lists under 'the errors of adversaries to this truth' Papists who claim that there are seven sacraments.
Concerning confirmation Rogers says "the sentence and judgement of the true church is, that rightly used, as it was in the primitive church, it is no sacrament; but a part of Christian discipline, profitable for the whole Church of God." Whilst the ACNA Catechism considers the inward grace imparted by confirmation to be "In confirmation, God strengthens the work of the Holy Spirit in me for his daily increase in my Christian life and ministry" Rogers tells us that it is an error of the Papists to believe that "confirmation is a sacrament whereby the grace the was given in baptism is confirmed and made strong by the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost."
Concerning Penance or Absolution, Rogers says "The blasphemies are outrageous, and the errors many and monstrous, comprised in this popish doctrine of penance. For neither can the manner of this their sacrament, nor the form, nor the minister, nor the effect, be drawn from the word of God. They say penance is a sacrament, yet they can show no element it hath to make it a sacrament." The BCP clearly allows the ministry of private confession. In the ministry to the sick, in extreme cases where assurance of forgiveness cannot be given even by plain and comfortable words of the Scriptures, it even allows the minister in this pastorally extreme situation to use the words 'I absolve you." Furthermore, in the first exhortation to receive the Lord's Supper in the BCP service it is written:
"if there be any of you, who by this means [the knowing of God's assurances through is death and the Scriptures] cannot quiet his own conscience herein, but requireth further comfort or counsel, let him come to me, or to some other discreet and learned Minister of God's Word, and open his grief, that by the ministry of God's holy Word he may receive the benefit of absolution, together with the ghostly counsel and advice, to the quieting of his conscience, and avoiding of all scruple and disobedience."
The issue is not so much with the idea that God calls ministers to administer absolution, we are told in the 'absolution' of the BCP Morning and Evening Prayer that ministers are both called and instructed to do such by Christ, but the issue is the fact that it is not a sacrament for it was not ordained of Christ to be such.
Likewise, nowhere does the BCP call Ordination a sacrament, nor does it ever call Marriage such. As Rogers rails against the idea that Ordination is a sacrament "What element hath it? What form? What promise? What institution from Christ?" or as he says about marriage "Marriage... was never commanded by God to be taken for a sacrament. Again, it hath neither outward element, nor prescribed form, nor promise of salvation, as a sacrament should, and baptism and the Lord's supper have."
I will leave it to you to discover Rogers' choice words concerning the idea that anointing with oil or 'unction' is a sacrament. You can find his book free online at http://prydain.files.wordpress.com/2010/07/the_catholic_doctrine_of_the_church_of_e.pdf
and go to page 263 in the book itself.
Suffice it to say that these things, whilst commonly called Sacraments, are simply not, and thus should not be called such. Whilst much of what the Catechism says concerning the hopes of our prayers during these things is spot on, that does not make them Sacraments. In accepting such Popish teaching the Catechism sells out to the Ritualists and capitulates to the Tractarian agenda, siding with Romish Tradition over the Historic Formularies of Anglicanism.
"Whilst much of what the Catechism says concerning the hopes of our prayers during these things is spot on, that does not make them Sacraments"
Other niggling issues
So far we have seen many good points to the ACNA Catechism, and two areas in which it is distinctly un-Anglican. I will finish by making a few observations on other issues in the Catechism, some relating to Anglicanism and some simply to Biblical theology.
Firstly, Whilst what 110-115 say concerning the Lord's Supper is carefully worded and correct Anglican teaching, given the broader nature of this catechism compared to that of the BCP I am surprised it does not staunchly defend the position laid out clearly in the Articles - namely the Reformed understanding of the Lord's Supper as opposed to that of transubstantiation or consubstantiation. In leaving open the 'real presence' the Catechism does a disservice to the heritage of faith handed down to us in the Historic Formularies.
Secondly, it over-spiritualises the end times in the Lord's prayer. Whilst indeed the Kingdom is something here and now among us and which grows with the fulfilling of the Great Commission, the Biblical picture is not just that at the end of time Jesus hands it back the Father (179) but that Christ comes as a warrior to smash and crush the opposition and to instigate His earthly reign over a literal Kingdom. As one may gather from what I just said, I hold to a historic pre-millennial position. I do not think the questions of post-mill, a-mill, and pre-mill are something we should divide over, but whilst the Catechism leaves open the possibility of taking a post or a-mill position it is far too prescriptive in seemingly writing against a pre-mill one. In doing so it steps beyond the teaching of Scripture.
Thirdly, the view of why Christians should say morning and evening prayer is also very shallow in number 248. We do not just follow these prayers because it is a sacrifice that pleases God or so we are aware that our "time is sanctified to God." The exhortation to repentance at the start of the BCP services of Morning and Evening prayer make clear why we say the offices and do so ideally as a gathered fellowship "to render thanks for the great benefits we have received at His hands, to set forth His most worthy praise, and to hear His most holy Word, and to ask those things which are requisite and necessary as well for the body as the soul..." We say the offices to praise and thank God, to ask of Him things through prayer, and to learn from and be edified by the reading of the Scriptures. Indeed, the whole bent of this part of the Catechism with its 'rule of life' and what not is pregnant with Tractarian theology and practice. I fail to see how 251-254 is traditional Anglican teaching and is drawn from the Historical Formularies. Whilst the teaching is not unhelpful by any means, I am not convinced its presence in the the Catechism for an organisation such as ACNA is helpful.
Fourthly, number 324 says that for Christians the tithe is 10% and this is a minimum. Really? Where are Christians told to tithe in this legalistic way? We are certainly called to give generously and as the Article 38 says "every man ought, of such things as he possesseth, liberally to give alms to the poor, according to this ability." but this is a far cry from imposing a legalistic 10%. Is this of pre or post tax deductions? What if you cannot afford 10%? Making such a blanket statement, unsupported by Scripture concerning the New Covenant, is unwise.
Finally, whilst much of what the Catechism says on Scripture is great - it is God inspired, it is vital that we read and learn and memorise it - I was left disappointed that the Catechism failed to say that Scripture is infallible and cannot teach untruth. The infallibility of Scripture is a central doctrine of the Reformation, so much so that it was hardly worth even mentioning it at the time because it was simple assumed by all sides and parties. But to lack clear mention of it in our modern age, especially in light of the fact that ACNA has arisen because The Episcopal Church has abandoned Scripture and no longer sees it as infallible at all, is to my mind a serious mistake.
"In leaving open the 'real presence' the Catechism does a disservice to the heritage of faith handed down to us in the Historic Formularies."
I want to close this topic by again affirming that there are many great things about the ACNA Catechism, and it has many strengths which will be vital to keeping ACNA healthy. But, regretfully, because of its Arminian leanings and its Tractarian understanding of the Sacraments, it cannot truly be called 'Anglican.' It is my prayer that ACNA will address these issues when they release the final edition of what is largely a superb Catechism.